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.

MESP Jerash1

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!

A Day in Ancient Egypt

For all of my life I have heard about the Pyramids of Egypt. Ancient Egypt is talked about in almost every school across the West. So getting the chance to actually go there and see the Pyramids in person seemed almost unreal. When we arrived I was not disappointed, up close the Pyramids were much bigger than I imagined. We even had the opportunity to go inside the main Pyramid, the Pyramid of Giza. We crawled through tight halls in order to get to a room in the middle of the Pyramid with an empty tomb. Afterwards we walked around the Pyramids and arrived at the Meres Ankh Tomb. The walls were covered in colored hieroglyphs that looked as good as new. We walked around some more and saw some of the smaller pyramids that often get over looked by all of the giant ones. We eventually arrived at the Sphinx which was larger and just as amazing as I expected. Finally, we ended the day by going to the Museum of Egyptian antiquities. There were not many artifacts near the Pyramids however the Museum was full of them. There were mummies, sarcophaguses, jewelry, statues and Hieroglyphs. It was a busy day but it was great to get to see all of ancient Egypt.

Wadi Rum Adventures

Ahlan wa sahlan! Welcome!

My name is Catie Mann and I attend university at Belhaven in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m in my last year studying International Studies with a focus in Political Science. I chose MESP because of the invitation to live more adventurously and to dig deeper into the current events surrounding the area. MESP has definitely challenged everything I set out to discover.

As we have been wrapping up the semester in the Middle East, our cohort was guided to an intensely unique part of Jordan: Wadi Rum! We were scrambling up rocks, sleeping on sand dunes, and riding camels through our overnight stay out in this desert. We climbed up to a spring, over an arch, and even ran up and down sand dunes (definitely a work out). The transportation out were trucks that offered a zipping view of the skies and rock formations that towered over the sands. I swapped between riding in the back to eat my lunch as we bounced over dunes and sitting on the roof to feel the cool air whip past. You might recognize it from several films (Theeb, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Martian, etc) that have been shot in the exquisite red sands, but what is less known are the Bedouin peoples that have lived in this region for generations. Known for their hospitality (Bedouin tea!) and resilience, they offered us a fantastic place to camp and eat for our night out in the dunes. This semester we have learned about tribal customs, laws, and peoples and getting to experience a small taste of their day in the life was absolutely incredible. For our night we chose to have a roof of stars over our heads as Khalid’s Camp helped us get situated with mattresses, enormous blankets, and a brilliant spot to point out constellations and catch glimpses of shooting stars. One of the more surreal things was singing Christmas carols while we traveled around, seeing as it’s now the Christmas season. That morning we packed up and headed out: on camels! We traveled in packs of four or five for the two hours out of the Wadi with the trusty Bedouin guides. It was a bit bumpy, but I loved every second of it. My favorite part was the nuzzling from the camel behind me (his name was Instagram) and the community that was fostered in sharing the experience of camel excitement. Once we reached the outskirts of the Bedouin village (our guide lived there, we found out!) we said ma’a sa’alamato our camels and guides and headed out to the next few adventures

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A desert sunset & a group of MESP camel riders.

This won’t be the end of my experiences and love for the Middle East or the Bedouin peoples of Jordan. There is a saying in Arabic that “all of life is a test,” and this semester has certainly tested me, and the rest of our group, on what it means to live well cross-culturally. As the hymn goes, God’s grace has brought us safe thus far and now it is leading us home. These past three months have certainly challenged and shaped how I view the Middle East and the beauty of intercultural relationships and communication. I am so thankful to be a part of this semester’s MESP opportunities, especially when they involve camels and tea.

Salam,

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Coffee and Flowers

Where to begin in saying what a day in my life would look like on the Middle East Studies Program. Well it typically will start with coffee. Heaven forbid the instant made upstairs in the kitchen, but we all suffer sometimes. Normally, I walk down the street to the coffee stall where there is kind man named Hamseh, and I order a half dinar Turkish Coffee. If I need iced coffee, I will take another street to the fabulous Starbucks, a mere .3 miles away.

Needless to say, I love drinking coffee here in Jordan because it is a way to connect with the local people, and because it is delicious! However, there is more to my experience in Jordan than coffee. I have learned what it is like to dive straight into a culture you are completely unfamiliar with and live with a group of people none of which I previously knew. How did it turn out you might wonder? Well, I have learned that without God, I can do nothing. The stress piled up higher than I thought it could but at my breaking point, God was there. I asked him to help me. To help me love the people of Jordan despite the differences between us, and to help me love my fellow MESPers. By His grace this semester has been a beautiful experience spent building new relationships and learning to love a whole new culture.

 

 

 

The Middle East Studies Program has been one of the hardest things I have ever done, but it has been something that has grown me more than I thought possible. The opportunities I have received are unparalleled and I could not be more grateful. I love Jordan, and it will always hold a special spot in my heart. On a completely different note, I find it fascinating how such beautiful flowers can bloom in November. I absolutely love it.

Life, Leaving, and The Garbage Village

I’m Amy Whittaker and I’m a sophomore at Bethel University in Indiana. There, I study International Health and Biology. I have a passion for traveling and for people, and I love learning about health and languages.

We are winding down our time in MESP (only TEN more days!) And there are so many mixed emotions floating around. A lot of us are excited to go home, but there is a kind of sadness in the air as we think of leaving this place and these people that we’ve grown to love so much in these past few months—flaws and all. It really is a bittersweet time for us right now, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that most times are bittersweet. There will never be a time in our lives in which everything is all good—or all bad. We have to take the good with the bad, fully experience both, and keep going.

I was really confronted by this reality upon visiting Garbage Village in Egypt last week. Garbage Village is exactly what it sounds like—an entire village full of garbage. The people in this village collect garbage from around Cairo and sort it by hand with no equipment to separate what can be recycled from the trash.  The people here are extremely poor, and while sifting through the garbage provides work for many, it is still dangerous, dirty work that causes many health problems. There is a lot of restorative work being done here, but it is still an extremely poor community whose very livelihood depends on garbage—and consequently the smell and hazards that accompany it.

We walked through the littered streets for about 15 minutes until we came to “the cave church,” a church that was built inside a large indent in the side of a mountain that local Christians say literally moved once in response to prayer and fasting, as God’s provision and salvation of local Christians in danger of being persecuted long ago. The Village fell away and gave sight to this beautiful mountainside cave. The air cleared and there were plants again. After visiting this oasis, we went to visit a local school that teaches practical skills to special needs kids—a concept that has been virtually unheard of in this part of the world until recently—and to a business that employs exclusively women to take recycled materials and make them into beautiful things like bags, notebooks, and hair scrunchies. We got the opportunity to talk briefly with some of the women who were working there and then got to buy some of their products.

Mideast Egypt Garbage Politics

We then left the complex and walked back through the streets, back through the stench and the women sitting in garbage, sorting with their bare hands with no protection.

Seeing the stark contrast between the beautiful things that were being done in the Garbage Village to help better people’s lives and the streets where the people were still struggling to live (and where we were even struggling to breathe in some places,) really brought to light for me the duality of this life we live. There is beauty and there is suffering everywhere—even in the Garbage Village.

I’m brought to the same conclusion as I prepare to leave Amman in just a few short days. Even in this beautiful time of reunification with loved ones at home and a return to the familiar, there is sadness in the background. Sadness over losing this community we’ve been building up for months, sadness over leaving the culture we’ve grown to love, and maybe even sadness over how different things will inevitably be when we return home. I am once again seeing that times are never fully good nor fully bad. Even in a place like Garbage Village, God is doing good things. In the same way, even in this upcoming time of reunification, there is an element of sadness and loss. In this life, there will always be beauty and there will always be sadness. Unfortunately for those of us who prefer things to be black and white, they will also always be there at the same time.

Momkin Culture?

Perhaps Culture?

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Ahlan! My name is Hunter and I study International Relations at Crown College in Minnesota–there is no other perfect place to learn about political science than to experience it in the Middle East!

Instead of sharing about a specific day, I would love to share some common things that I have experienced that would be helpful for an everyday outlook here!

Flexibility is key. Initially my “Day in the life of a MESPer” was supposed to be one day but rescheduled events and meetings made one day quickly turned into two. Things like this are never expected so it’s important to hold things very loosely, and let me remind you, that is a choice. There are also lots of amazing opportunities with flexibility, like an extra day in Jerusalem when borders are closed for religious holidays 🙂

IMG_8567 2Tolerance for ambiguity. Ambiguity comes in so many shapes and sizes! It may be eating fish with the whole body still intact or stuffed pigeon in Egypt. It may be a travel time that is full of TBDs. It may be walking away from a conversation saying, “I have no idea what just happened, but I think it was okay?” However, I think that embracing these moments of ambiguity are moments that build character and give opportunities to be pleasantly surprised.

Grace. If I am honest, this one is very hard for me. I am a 2 wing 1&3 on the Enneagram, yes we talk about this a lot in MESP! So a part of my growth journey is learning how to give grace when I find myself frustrated, but then also give grace to myself in times of stress. However, you must realize that you are not alone and other people will struggle with this as well, embrace it and learn from it.

Love. When entering into MESP, you enter into a community that desires to “shake the love around.” It’s a beautiful thing but being a part of the community means that you have a responsibility within the community and that is to love. What a beautiful thing!

So while this a short list of what any-given MESP day is like, it’s an experience that I have “refused to be denied!” as Dr. Doug says. Each MESP day has been such a blessing and my hope is that some day you may be able to journey on something just as amazing!

Many blessings to you!

A Different View From the Top

Hi Y’all! I’m Pateley and I am a junior at Westmont College in the beautiful Santa Barbara, CA. I am studying Communications with a Global Studies minor and have a strong passion to learn languages. It is officially my turn to do a “Day in the Life of a MESPER” and I couldn’t be more pumped to share with you guys!IMG_5306.JPG

Before coming abroad I could’ve never even fathomed what a day in the life of MESPER would look like. It truly has to be something you experience for yourself, because each day is so unique and different in its own way. Some days are better than others, but each day is full. Full of life, learning, growth, challenges, and more ways to be amazed at God’s hand at work. Each day I find my perspective being altered just a little bit more- my view on the world slowly shaping to align more with my creators’. As we adventure through new cities, try unique foods, sit down with new (and old) faces, while doing our best to learn about the culture we are in, I find myself so often sitting back and simply being where I am. How often in our lives do we try this? To stop, look around, recognize where we are, who we are with, and attempt to fully be in the present. 

So as we begin to explore Egypt- in all its glory- I can’t help but feel overwhelmed by all the incredible information that I want to absorb. This country has thousands of years of history. Millions of stories to be told and heard. Places to be seen. Foods to be tried. I can almost hear them calling out to me, my mouth preemptively watering to the thought of stuffed pigeon (well, that is TBD). 

Today we were given the incredible opportunity to explore and learn about the Great Pyramids of Ancient Egypt. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what I was about to IMG_8320.jpgexperience. To even attempt to comprehend the complex history and advancements of this civilization would be far beyond my abilities. But, as I reflected on what we experienced today, I found many similarities to what we have been studying for the past couple of months about Islam. It was complex, hard to understand, even fathom. How you could you wrap your mind around a perspective and mindset so vividly different from your own? How could you even begin to understand it? I realize this is a question that humanity has struggled with for years, but there are attempts being made. Ways to decipher what the other is really saying, what they really believe, who they really are.

So I will continue to ask questions, seek to learn in every moment, and continually be lost in my wonder of this world.

 

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.

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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)