Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Jordanian Mormons? Indeed.
Thursday, I left Salhiyya early to begin my weekly trek to Irbid for church. Flagging busses down, waiting at police checkpoints, and meeting new locals along the way always makes for an exciting journey. This week I snagged the only seat left on the bus from Mafraq to Irbid, which was the flimsy foldout seat next to the driver. Of course, I was the only foreigner on board. Most people stay pretty quiet on these gender-segregated bus rides, but one of the men behind me broke the silence by striking up a conversation with me. Pretty soon I was chatting with all three men around me having a good ole’ time. After I dropped a couple of Bedouin phrases, the driver laughed in amazement, put a shmogh on my head, and called me Muhammad the rest of the ride. He was a proud Bedouin who claimed to have four wives and twenty children. When we arrived in Irbid, he refused to allow me to pay for the ride. Typical Jordanian hospitality.
You may be surprised to know that the LDS Church is active at all in the Middle East. There are two branches of the church in Jordan: one in Amman, which consists mostly of US government employees working in the capital, and one in Irbid. The Irbid branch consists of about five or six Arab families who are all related. The humanitarian senior missionaries, the Colsons, lead the branch. This Northern area of the country has a large Christian minority, and the few members here converted from various other Christian sects. Each week we spend Thursday night with one of the member families. We observe the Sabbath on Friday since that’s the day everyone has off work (It’s a day off because Muslims are to make a special effort to attend prayer services on Friday).
These LDS Jordanians face some challenges: no full-fledged ward/stake programs, almost no other young people to date inside the church, no temple close by (only one family has made it to London to be sealed), and on top of that, the LDS Church is not yet officially recognized in Jordan, which disqualifies Latter-day Saints from serving in the military. Despite the tough circumstances, there is a strong base of faithful members. The branch has one missionary in the field and two more who are preparing to leave. One of them, Samah Elyas, will be the first Arab sister to serve on Temple Square. It’s a pleasure to be apart of this branch. At the beginning of the summer, President Colson assigned me to be the Gospel Principles teacher. The class consists of the newer members and usually about three or four investigators each week. Our focus on the basics and class participation always seems to make the class a very edifying experience. Recently, some of the investigators asked to be taught in their homes, so President Colson asked Cyrus, James, and I to come up early each week to teach (Since proselytizing is illegal for us, we must be invited by interested Christians in order to teach). Last week I began teaching two families with Amr, one of the local returned missionaries. It’s exciting to be teaching the principles that are most important to me in people’s homes again.
Since most meetings in the church here are translated from Arabic to English, or English to Arabic depending on who is speaking, everyone must teach in short powerful statements. This is beautiful to me – sorry if my writing doesn’t show that sometimes. I’m learning more and more that simple, direct communication is in short supply. The beauty of words is in their expressive power, and simplicity usually enhances this power rather than diminishing it. Witnessing this phenomenon in the gospel context makes it so clear. Also, like my beloved town of Ft. Sumner, NM, the dynamic of the church here is very different from the average wards of the Western United States. Cultures are different, so the cultural frills of the Church change in different parts of the world. However, if we have a personal testimony of God’s truth and commandments then we’re on the strait and narrow. When the truth is present, cultural differences aren’t a hindrance, in fact, they’re a blessing!