Allahu akbar?

Written by current student Abigail Prichard (Trinity Western Unversity, BC, Canada)


The last three months in Jordan have not been my first time living in a Muslim nation. The first time was three years ago when I spent three months in Turkey with an organization called Youth With A Mission (YWAM). However, when I compare my perception of Islam and Muslims from then to now, I see radical change.


Allahu akbar.


Three years ago, during my first sleep in my new home in Gaziantep, Turkey, I was jolted awake by the eerie sound of muezzins’ voice. These Arabic words rang through the air. Multiple muezzins sang at once, it seemed to me they were all competing for the airspace. Their songs staggered so there was never a moment of silence. At first I was fearful of what the multiple voices were, coming from every direction, calling out in a language completely foreign to me. It lasted hours, or so it felt. I lay in bed, frozen, waiting for it to end. The experience gave me my first taste of culture shock and one of my first polarizing experiences with Islam.


During my time in Turkey, I never really got used to the sound of the call to prayer. I woke up almost every morning at 5:00 am, without fail, to hear the sunrise call. I came to associate the call to prayer with the dominance of Islam in the region. Because of the evangelical Christian community of YWAM I was a part of leading up to my time in Turkey and while I was there, this made me incredibly sad. It broke my heart that everyday, five times a day, Allah was being declared sovereign over these people, and they were missing the truth and redemption that I had received through Jesus. The call to prayer unsettled my spirit and led me to pray for revival in Turkey, a now Muslim nation that had previously been the footstool of the Gospel.


Since being in Jordan, I have become a little confused as to how I am supposed to view the call to prayer, and Islam as a whole. The more I learn about Muslims and Islam, the more similarities I see between my faith and theirs. I now understand that Allah is merely the Arabic word for God and I have been opened to the possibility that maybe we’re all calling out to the same God, just in our own different ways. The call to prayer does not unsettle my spirit in the same way that it used to. I’m not sure if that is a good or a bad thing.


I think the anecdote of my changing perception of the call to prayer illustrates my journey with understanding Islam well. It’s slowly transitioning from polarization and assumptions to uncertainty and discomfort. Maybe uncertainty and discomfort weren’t the words you were expecting. I can’t lie and pretend I understand it all now and I know how I feel about Muslims and Islam. That’s just not true. “The more you learn, the less you know,” this has sort of been my motto throughout the semester. The more I learn about Islam the less I know for sure, learning breeds discomfort, but the good kind.


Unexpected Beauty

An excerpt from, current student, Sarah Bennet’s blog: Cherish the Moment (Oral Roberts University, Oklahoma)


Your hair  brushes your cheek as you stare out over a canyon looking down on the treasury at Petra. The night sky illuminates the canyon as your feet hang over the side. Stars smile down from above as the moon seems to dance to the musical melody filling the air. Below hundreds of candles flicker on the desert floor.

You jump into the warm water and lunge your arms forward. You float right to the surface laying on your back you stare  at the crystal blue sky above. Barely a cloud lingers in sight. The waves rock you back and forth like a hammock. You feel the salt burning the cuts in your leg, but the pain is part of the experience. You roll over and swim further out, letting the waves whisk you away. Suddenly, a wave crashes into your face. The salt burns your eyes, sucking out the moisture. The pain is real, but the moment just makes you laugh. You cry the salt out and continue to let the waves take you away.

You hike up a canyon full of water fighting upstream to journey up to a beautiful waterfall. The sound of shebab (young Arab men)  fills your ears as they sing at the top of their lungs while you continue to venture through the canyon. Your feet splash water in front of you with each step. Upon reaching the waterfall you sit directly under it and let the sound of rushing water soothe your soul. You can not resist the urge to go behind the waterfall,  so you climb a few rocks and go behind it. At the end of the day, you float down the canyon on your back as the water carries you wherever it pleases.

You study in the Amman Citadel in ancient Roman ruins overlooking East Amman. You find a spot with enough shade to shield you from the sun, unpacking your water bottle and some snacks, you pull out a book and begin to read. Literally, the best study spot in the world to be reading history.

You are at a Circassian family party under the cool night sky. You just had your fill of delicious foods, coffee, and dessert. Just when you think the party is over, dancing breaks out. The men strut around the dance floor with some impressive foot work as the women seem to gracefully float around them, flowing to the rhythm of the music.

All these are just a few of the many memories I have made in Jordan so far. I have been living in Amman for a couple months now studying and exploring. I am absolutely falling in love with this area and the people. The Middle East continues to steal my heart. I can not believe the goodness of the Lord that I have the opportunity, after being in the Middle East this summer, to be here a whole semester. I really pray the Lord opens another door in the future for my to come back and work here for some time. I know a lot of family and friends were nervous about my studying in Jordan, but honestly this has been a highlight of my time in college. I would recommend for everyone who could to study abroad. I wish you all could come experience Jordan and break some stereotypes that the media and the West has placed on the Middle East and Muslims. I have experienced so much genuine hospitality since being here. Taken there are a lot of differences, but this is an easy place to adapt to. I truly believe in searching out the beauty and truth for myself first hand. I know there is a lot going on in the Middle East, but I believe that God wants to continue to release streams of life and healing even in desert places. Coming to Jordan I see this beauty through the people in Jordan and the students I am living in community with.

Experiencing Eid

Written by current MESP student Shannon Pedersen (Messiah College, Pennsylvania)


Over the Muslim holiday of Eid, I was invited to spend the weekend with the family of one of my local Jordanian friends. Going on a Jordanian homestay was most definitely not what I expected. As I travelled out I learned that the entire family was Christian (Catholic), so it wouldn’t be a typical Eid holiday celebration.


Driving through Jordan was absolutely beautiful. It was hilly and with a lot more vegetation (another welcome surprise). When we got to the Rahini home, we were welcomed with “Merhaba” and Arabic coffee. We were also very well fed. My friend who was hosting us was Basheer. His parents spoke and understood very little English, so that was a real challenge. Thankfully Basheer and his siblings all spoke English fairly well, so they translated a lot. As a vegetarian, not being able to eat meat was initially a problem, because I think the mom found it offensive, but when she served us fruit as a snack and breakfast and lunch the following day, she learned that I really do love her and her food and meant no offense.


The first evening, the whole family came to visit. We quickly connected over card games and got to practice some basic vocabulary and numbers. I even met this young woman, Rita, who is 17 years old and absolutely marvelous. She talked to me about a camp in Maine that she participated in, Seeds of Peace. I now plan on at least applying to work there as a counselor (I highly suggest other students interested in Peace and Conflict look at it as well).


My favorite part about this weekend was learning about general Jordanian family culture. Here, the family unit is so much more pronounced. Everyone lives within 5 minutes of each other. Even Basheer and his brother live close to one another in the bustling city of Amman. I also love how everyone greets each other as if they haven’t seen them in months or years. Our greetings in the United States are so casual, and the way I greet my friends’ families is more akin to how Jordanian family members greet each other. Nevertheless, I always felt so welcome and loved. I truly do love them in return.


Another aspect of their family was their gardens. At the Rahini household, they grow olives, plums, pomegranates, mint, thyme, and cactus. The plums they picked off the vine were by far the most amazing ones I have ever tasted. I also loved the fresh olive oil, and I hope to bring some home with me as well.


To pass the time, we played card games, did homework, and watched the extensive video footage of Basheer’s and Ramina’s wedding. They had over 1,000 people attend the ceremony (the receiving line lasted for hours) and the reception had about 300 people. I love the way they dance, as it is very fluid, gentle, and energy-conserving. Also, I was surprised to see how liberal the dresses were. Perhaps I will be able to attend a Muslim wedding sometime while being here.

Facing Suffering

Written by current MESP student John Papatheofanis (Wheaton College, Illinois)


After reflecting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what I learned and observed on our ten-day trip I have come away with several reoccurring thoughts. I often think of suffering in terms of numbers and not in terms of emotional human life. It’s for that reason that I need to spend time with those suffering and how simply reading about a conflict doesn’t emotionally affect me. This is why I appreciated the time I spent in Israel/Palestine.


I specifically remember sitting on the bus from Jerusalem to a check point back into the West Bank. While sitting on this bus, several Palestinian men sat down next to and around me. They were coming back from work and were entirely exhausted. Not only in the way a person is from a long day of work, but from a difficult existence. I could see in their eyes an exhaustion that could only result from subjugation and domination. The lines in their faces reminded me of the unimaginable stress someone in their position accumulates over the lifetime, and the knowledge that they’ll have to go through the same, drawn out process of getting into Jerusalem again tomorrow.


That bus ride helped the emotion and weight of the situation sink in for me. I felt bad because it happened the day before we left for Jordan, and that each one of my classmates had been struggling with the weight of the conflict for over a week. I had seen videos of children being killed, walked along the barrier, and heard stories from my host families of relativers who had been shot down like dogs. But for some reason simply sitting with those who had been struggling for decades hit me in the face with the realization and empathy I had been seeking the entire trip. I wish it had happened sooner, but I am glad I have finally begun the process of considering this conflict as one that deeply effects millions of innocent people, people exhausted like the men I shared the bus with.

Time Is Not Infinite

An excerpt from Schuyler Pals’ blog: Travels With Pals (Gordon University, Massachusetts)

The clock rests at 3:05; I do not know how long ago it came to pause in that position. It is not a particularly interesting clock. Bare wooden boards, without ornate garnishes, hides on pastel yellow walls. Waiters carry loads up and down narrow winding staircases, conversations blend into disharmonic melodies, and friends sit in a distant room playing and singing together in English, French, and Arabic. Life’s buzzes to cacophonic intensity, and the clock holds at 3:05.

Time is not infinite. It stretches neither to an eternal beginning, nor an eternal end. Time is a commodity. It is measured and weighed—sectioned off and filled till it brims over with work, play, and self-improvement. Humanity constantly loses time, wastes time, or kills time. What if time were a living entity? An ouroboros reflecting in upon itself and infinitely reproducing more time. Our ordered arrangement of time would break down, for an infinite commodity cannot be arranged in coldly defined spaces.

In this state, time seamlessly morphs into the propensity for relationship. Fruitlessly we, time’s murderers, attempt to force the organic force into a strictly held framework. Events must run like clockwork, because that ensures the best use of our time, and isn’t using time wisely the highest status of self-reliance and maturity? Still, our individualistic self-reliance misses the point. Just because we can live in a modicum amount of self-sufficiency does not mean we exist outside of a nexus of relationships.

Three weeks remain in Best Semester’s Middle East Studies Program. Only a couple of months ago our travel to Morocco and Istanbul seemed eras ahead of us. Now I am sitting in the hallway of our hotel in Istanbul trying to compress months into a succinct blog; it is a surrealist’s dream. New epiphanies will strike me for years to come from the richness of the experience.

I am a fairly well travelled person, but have not spent extensive amounts of time in one place abroad or studied another culture so in depth. God has been peeling back my layers and making me uncomfortable from this experience. Taking a mirror to myself, through interacting and loving Middle Eastern people and culture.

If I have learned anything from this semester, it is that contrary to Kantian ideals of the free and independent individual, we live in a nexus of relationship. One, which only ever expands, letting in more people and more relationships to live—in all its forms—the further you get away from the center. No one lives in complete isolation. No matter how reclusive a person becomes, they are a part of the main.

Western civilization’s propensity to compartmentalize sets us up to separate relationship. This destruction of relationship came to light to me when we met with a Moroccan to talk about their testimony. In it, we spoke only of conversion. The total departure from Islam to Christianity, but to talk in this terms automatically sets us up against the other. It makes Islam against Christianity and vice versa.

Service Project & Jordanian Hospitality

Written by current MESPer Elizabeth Byrd (Eastern University, Pensylvania)

My service project is with one of the coolest businesses/organizations that I have had the chance to work with. You can check them out here: They reach out to men and women who are “physically challenged and underprivileged in the Holy Land”. All of the women I have interacted with are sweet and more than willing to make sure that I am well-fed and that I learn all about Jordan and Arabic that I can possibly manage to remember! The first week we were cataloging olive wood jewelry pieces. The next we were able to be on the floor with the women, tying ribbons and tags to wooden ornaments, and indulging in two tea breaks! I know that I will continue to enjoy going back each week!

This week I was also invited into the landlord’s apartment with his niece. I met the niece in the stairwell. She had a plate of food that she insisted that I try. I asked her a question about whether it was sweet or savory. She didn’t know how to answer so she said, “Come with me. I’ll ask my uncle!” As soon as our landlord opened the door, he insisted that we come in and eat. I felt like I was in a position where I could not refuse. The niece made me a plate of the dish and she gave me some soup, while our landlord invited me to sit down. The niece began speaking in Arabic, but our landlord insisted that she speak English — “to practice”. I am sure that he said that so that I would feel comfortable and so I could understand what was being said. She asked me about where I live. I tried to explain that there are a lot of squirrels where I am from but her uncle had to explain in Arabic what squirrels are. It never occurred to me that she would not be familiar with squirrels! Looking back, I realize that Jordan is in the desert and it makes sense that there aren’t many squirrels here. I saw that the TV was tuned into what appeared to be a news station. I asked our landlord if he was watching the news and he proceeded to tell me about what was happening in Turkey and about the dust storm. He seemed excited and willing to explain to me what was happening in his region of the world so that I could better understand the politics and the history. This was my first big dose of the famous “Jordanian hospitality” that was directed at me and not because our whole group of 20 Westerners were invited somewhere.

I love life in Jordan and the hospitality that goes along with it. I also love the opportunity that MESP provides to partake in service projects. These projects help to get cultural experience and feel like you are helping out in the community.


An Excerpt From Julia Newton’s Blog: Jules Around The World (Malone University, Ohio)

Guess what – I have already been here for over two months already!  It has been a mosaic of very different, very new, and very surprising experiences.  Some things have been big and exciting (like visiting Roman Ruins and Petra and Jerusalem, evidence of which resides in previous blogposts), but most of it has been adjusting to a life of everyday routines and making the foreign into the norm.

These things may be common and unexciting, but this is my life most of the time.  And really, even though I have more motivation to write about the crazy adventures we have every once in a while, in order to get a true taste of my life you need a picture of the valley as well as the mountain top experiences.  So here is a snapshot of daily life here in Amman.

  1. Taxi riding

I am a country girl.  I experienced my first taxi at age 11 in NYC, and I have been in maybe a handful or two of cabs since then.  When they told us that we would be traveling all over Amman by taxi, I was honestly nervous.  What about the language barrier?  What counts as appropriate interaction with taxi drivers?  What if they rip us off?

You know what I learned?  All of those are very, very valid questions (especially the last one, let me tell you). But I also learned that riding in taxis is entertaining and educational, and they do not need to be feared in the least.  That being said, there were many a time when we would be standing out on a curb in groups of three or four, sweat dripping down our necks in the 100+ degree heat, mentally cursing the lack of yellow cabs right when we needed to get to our Arabic courses.  Catching a cab is a combination of luck and skill, heavily leaning towards the former.

2. Amman

Closely related to the former is a snapshot of this beautiful city.  Amman is the capital of Jordan, and it is large, modernized, busy, and surprisingly safe for a city of its size (there are approximately 4 million inhabitants – it’s huge).  It is split into the more modern/developed West Amman (where I live), and the more historical “downtown” of East Amman, where there is more poverty but a lot of cool Jordanian shops and restaurants.  Every once in a while we take a break from doing homework in our apartment to exploring more of the city.

3. Service Projects

One of the reasons why I was so excited to join MESP was because of the program’s built-in service project system.  It is a requirement for everyone enrolled to attend a once-a-week service project opportunity, which are assigned in the beginning of the semester.  Three of my friends and I were assigned to help tutor English to Jordanian kids at the American Academy at Zarqa (a town about 45 minutes outside of Amman).

It takes about an hour and a half of two taxis and a long public bus system to get there each Tuesday, but it is totally worth it.  First off, the four of us are a super-team.  We have already decided that we are both a four-person band and an [extremely] unofficial curling team. (We were taught the rules of curling during one of the long bus rides.  We’re practically theoretical professionals by now.)  I am constantly thankful to be going with such cool people, since we spend an inordinate amount of time sitting next to each other in various kinds of public transportation.

And then there’s the children.  Kids everywhere are adorable, but Jordanian children are adorable (and hilarious and stubborn and beautiful).  We get to work with various ages from 1st to 4th grade, and though we usually just help the kids with reading, we have also helped with homework.  Have you ever tried to explain body cells to someone who doesn’t speak English?  It’s harder than it sounds.  It’s exhausting but also oddly satisfying work, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to invest in the lives of these young Jordanians.

4. Food

How would a post about life be complete without mention of sustenance itself?  I love food.  It’s almost a problem (“But is it really?”, I often ask myself).  I was afraid that I wouldn’t like Middle Eastern food, but both thankfully and unluckily I love almost everything that has made contact with my taste buds. Here are a couple of the more delicious (or just notable) items in my daily menu.

And there it is – such is life for an American college student living in Amman for a couple short months. There is so much more to share – about grocery shopping and scrounging the cupboards for food, about our shared devo times every morning, about how we watched an entire season of Survivor while we procrastinated writing a particularly daunting paper – but I will have to leave those details for the especially curious.

Jordan Rocks!

An Excerpt from Michelle Jones’ Blog: A Sojourners Heart (Azusa Pacific University, California)

It’s crazy how quickly a couple of weeks can pass. Tomorrow, I will have been living in Jordan for a full month. So much has happened, and the semester is in full swing. I was partly hoping that I could spend all of my time here drinking delicious coffee and exploring every nook and cranny of this beautiful country, but alas, I am studying abroad. But even with the endless academic workload (which I am grateful for), there is still a bit of time for some adventure.

Two weekends ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Petra! Its name literally means “rock,” which is fitting, as Petra is a city of rocks. It is also one of the seven wonders of the world…no big deal. I had visited for a short time on a previous trip, but was only able to see a tiny sliver of all that the city has to offer. Petra is so much more than The Treasury (the famous facade featured inIndiana Jones and The Last Crusade…I actually spent a lot of the time imagining I was Dr. Jones himself) – while it is beautifully grand, there are also mountains to climb and caves to explore and bedouins to drink tea with. Just about the most refreshing and exhilarating thing for me is to find a quiet cliff with a beautiful view, and I was delightfully surprised to experience this in what I previously thought to be a busy tourist destination.

In addition to quiet cliffs and beautiful views, a couple of other refreshing/exhilarating things up there for me are 1. hopping around on rocks and 2. playing in water (I attribute this to a childhood full of rocks to hop around on and water to play in). I found these things at Wadi Mujib, which is a hiking trail in a long canyon with a waterfall at the end…which means the whole trail is full of water. On the way up, you are basically spending all of your strength on trying not to be knocked over by the current, but at the same time trying to look up at the beauty engulfing you. After arriving at the waterfall and chilling under it with some fellow hikers, I was able to float on my back and let the water carry me for much of the way back down. This day left me with the same blissful and contented sleepiness that a day at the beach usually gives me…very much needed after being land locked in a desert climate for nearly a month! All that was missing was a good San Diego quality burrito.

I am thankful to have weekends full of wanderlust satisfying activities…these sorts of things are what help me get through the week of late nights studying Arabic and reading up on challenging subjects, one of which is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I came into the semester with very little knowledge on this subject, which is actually working in my favor. I think it is helping me look at the conflict with an unbiased perspective; I am not learning about the situation in order to support a position I already hold on it, but because I really just need to learn about it. It is also a topic that carries so much hurt on both sides, which makes the long lectures and readings all the more difficult. The emotional challenges and complexity of the subject, however, are what make it so rich and engaging.

There is so much more I could write, but my time and wifi are limited.

Old Conflicts & New Families

An Excerpt from Caleb Giesbrecht’s Blog: Caleb Andrew (Trinity Western University, BC, Canada)

Almost 2 weeks ago, the students and myself on the program came back from a travel study to Israel/Palestine to study the historic conflict taking place in the holy land. It was one of the most eye opening experiences I’ve ever been a part of, and was equally as amazing as it was challenging. We got to hear from some incredible speakers on both sides of the Arab/Israeli conflict and their opinions on the cause and solution to the conflict.
Along with the lectures and speakers, we got to experience the sites that the holy land has to offer, such as: the Old City of Jerusalem (including the Wailing Wall, but excluding the Dome of the Rock), the Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, Hebron and heaps of places that were mentioned in the Bible. If you were following the news during the time we were there, you’ll know that we were there at an extremely high time of tension, where stabbings, shootings and demonstrations were abundant throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. However, we were totally safe, and there was never a time where I felt that I was in real danger from either side of the conflict. It was a memorable experience that I will never forget.
This week was also the last week for our service projects, that myself and my fellow students have been participating in once a week since the start of the semester. I got the incredible privilege to serve a pastor in the area and his ministry to Christian Iraqi refugees. These incredible people have fled their homes within the past 2 years to Amman, Jordan because of the heightened conflict happening near their homes in Iraq. What did I do you might ask? Well folks I taught English. That’s right. Caleb, who is nearly illiterate in his reading English, poor in his written English, and who talks like a walking twitter handle was going to teach people ESL. I was just as scared as you are reading that sentence.
Not gonna lie, the first few weeks were super tough. I have the genetic makeup and personality to be a teacher, but I don’t have a creative bone in my body to come up with material and present it. Luckily, I had some help from volunteers (one from California, and one from the Netherlands) who helped me create lesson plans week after week. Many times my students would ask me tough questions like, why sentences are created the way they are, and what certain words mean (try explaining the word “think” without using the word “think” or “thought” to describe it). I’ve been speaking English for 23 years and I still don’t know how to use words properly. This has made me come to the conclusion that English sucks, and I commend whoever has attempted or succeeded in learning it. My hats off to you.
However, as the weeks went on, I found my groove. I learned how my friends operated in learning, and I grew very close to them. It warmed my heart to watch them be so passionate to learn English, and it warmed my heart even more watching them succeed. Today was the last day of my ESL teaching, and I was extremely sad to leave my new family I had made in just 2 months. They have taught me so much about being grateful and happy in every circumstance, and to persevere through the trials life throws at you. I hope to one day meet up with them again (Insha-allah), as they have impacted my life in so many ways.

Understanding Arabs: Arabs and Muslims in the West Reflection

Written by a current MESP student

In Understanding Arabs, Margaret K. Nydell states that since the attacks of 9/11, “Muslims have faced increased discrimination, threats, name-calling, violence, and vandalism (Sikhs have been targeted too).” The chapter talks about the discrimination Muslims receive in the West and I can attest from living in Canada that it is true. I think that the biggest factor of the discrimination is misunderstanding and the negative stigma of being associated with terrorist organizations. Back in Canada and the States I have heard people say things such as, “The Muslims are taking over” or “They need to stop letting Muslims immigrate”. I had never agreed with any of these statements, but I also had never refuted them because I had zero knowledge of Islam and had never spoken to a Muslim before. However, being in the Middle East, interacting with Muslims everyday, and making Muslim friends has been one of the most enlightening and fulfilling opportunities of my life. It is here where stereotypes have begun to be break down for me, stereotypes such as dress, and women being forced to cover. For example, within my service project where I teach English to women I have one student who wears a niqab, the majority wear modest dress and a hijab, and one who wears a t-shirt, jeans, and leaves her hair uncovered. I might add that the girl, who dresses in casual clothes and does not cover her head, has a sister who wears the traditional coverings and a hijab. When asked why they dress differently, the answer was as simple as “preference”. Another stereotype is one of turbans. In the West, people often mislabel Sikhs as Muslim because of the turban. I find this interesting because in my time here in the Middle East, I have never once seen a Muslim man wear a turban. Ever. I think that there is also this stereotype that Muslims are mean and hostile people. From my experience here I have experienced more hospitality and kindness from people than I ever have in a North American setting.

            I think that the greatest lesson I have learned in being in the Middle East so far is that when you keep a people group at arms length it is easy to desensitize yourself to their humanity. The understanding of others often comes through tangible associations and positive interactions. It is true that 9/11 and extremist groups such as ISIS have given Islam an incredibly bad reputation, but it is more important for people to come to recognize that this is not Islam and it is a great injustice to associate Islam and the Muslim people with radical groups such as these. We live in a crazy time where fear of terrorism runs rampant. I can’t change that, nor can I change the politics of the world. I can however choose how I will react. I can choose to alienate an entire people out of fear or I can submit myself to understanding and embracing the “other” until they are no longer “other”.  I am by no means an expert on intercultural relations or anything of the sort; but if I had one piece of advice to give it would be this: expand your worldview, get to know and understand people, and love unconditionally as Christ loves us.