Jordan

'God Always Provides'

REV. KHALIL JAAR is a warm, passionate, and energetic man—and he needs to be. As the spiritual leader and “go to” guy for the 150 Iraqi Christian refugees living in his church in Amman, Jordan, he needs all the energy he can get.

When I met with Father Jaar at St. Mary, Mother of the Church congregation in Amman, it quickly became obvious how much he loves the refugees who now call this church home. Jaar, himself a refugee, knows something about the trials and tribulations of being forced to leave your home. He is the son of Palestinian refugees of Honduran descent. (His birth name is Carlos and he took the name Khalil when he became a Catholic priest.) He also knows something about the terror of war. Shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, he was abducted in Baghdad where he was serving, and “only by the grace of God was I freed,” he says.

Jaar is especially dedicated to the education of the Iraqi children forced to leave everything they knew, including their schools. In his overcrowded office, full of stacks of papers and files, Jaar pulls out a large binder. This is his personal reference book, with a page for each child in his care. It includes a photo, a short history of their family and background, their education to date, and also notes about their extracurricular activities and likes, such as soccer and music. It is important to know as much  as possible about each child, he says, and make sure that they continue their education.

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Smiles from the Inside

Lynne Hybels, center, with Syrian refugees and staff at the Za'atari U.N. camp. (Photo by Christine Anderson.)

I'M DREAMING. Ten young men about my son’s age are singing me a Mother’s Day greeting to the tune of “Happy Birthday.” I recognize the melody, of course, but the language is foreign. Still, I’m delighted; I clap and laugh.

Oh, wait. It’s Mother’s Day 2014 and I’m not dreaming. In a refugee camp in Jordan, 10 young Syrian men are singing beautiful Arabic words to me and two other visiting American moms. It’s our last stop in an intense week of refugee visits; it feels good to be laughing.

The singing men, and the young Syrian women who joined us as we toured an educational compound in the Za’atari U.N. refugee camp, were bright university students in Syria before the war—future historians, mathematicians, teachers, agricultural engineers; some just months from graduating—when the violence of Syria’s civil war forced them to flee.

“But when you end up in a refugee camp,” one of the young men explained, “people treat you like idiots. Like you understand nothing.” Herein lies one of the great refugee tragedies. Living at the mercy of others and with little respect, no decision-making freedom, and no control over their future often fuels anger and hopelessness in young refugees.

Curt Rhodes, founder of Questscope, an NGO dedicated to empowering marginalized youth, says, “Perhaps the most dehumanizing thing that can be done to an individual is to take away his or her ability to make choices. ... [We must] increase their personal agency to make positive change in their lives and the lives of others like them.” Recognizing the innate human need to contribute positively to the future, Questscope trains young adult Syrians like the ones I met to be mentors, caseworkers, and teachers for younger children in the camp.

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Pope Francis Eyes Religious Reconciliation on Trip to Holy Land

John Paul II places a prayer in the Western Wall in Jerusalem during a trip to Israel in 2000. Religion News Service file photo.

It sounds a little far-fetched and for some purists perhaps unthinkable: A pope, a rabbi, and a sheik decide to travel to the Holy Land and follow in the steps of Jesus.

But that is just one of the groundbreaking aspects of Pope Francis’ three-day visit to the Middle East that starts on Saturday, a visit in which he hopes to shore up interfaith dialogue, strengthen diplomatic relations, and find new ways to build peace.

The Argentina-born pope will be accompanied by colleagues Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Sheik Omar Abboud, both from Buenos Aires. It is the first time a pope’s official delegation has included members of other faiths on an overseas trip.

Pope Francis Will Take Rabbi and Muslim Leader With Him to Holy Land

Pope Francis greets people during a meeting on Nov. 9, 2013. Photo by Alessia Giuliani, courtesy Catholic News Service.

Pope Francis will be accompanied on his first visit to the Middle East by Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Muslim leader Omar Abboud — two friends from Buenos Aires.

It is the first time a pope has made an official visit accompanied by members of other faiths, and it underscores the interfaith focus of Francis’ trip to the Holy Land, the Vatican said Thursday.

“This dimension of interreligious dialogue has great significance,” the Vatican’s official spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the media.

A Holy Land Without Christians?

LIKE MANY Palestinians forced from their homes during the 1948 war, relatives of Jordan’s Sen. Haifa Najjar carried the keys to their Palestinian homes with them as they fled. These keys, passed down through generations, are powerful symbols of Palestinian ties to the land that international law considers theirs—even as their hope for return wanes.

As a Christian appointed by King Abdullah II to Jordan’s upper house of Parliament, Najjar is active in the education, environment, cultural, and legal sectors of the government. She is also superintendent of the Anglican-run Ahliyyah School for Girls and Bishop’s School for Boys in Amman, Jordan.

Within the mix of the 500,000 Palestinians who relocated to Jordan because of the Israeli War of Independence—or Nakba, “the catastrophe,” depending on who you ask—was a vocal minority of Palestinian Christians who joined their ranks with the existing Jordanian Christian community. Prior to 1948, Christians accounted for nearly 20 percent of the population of what is now Israel/Palestine. Today that figure is less than 2 percent. Even more dramatic are declines in the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem. Christian populations are nearly extinct in these locations compared to their respective majorities of 90 and 80 percent prior to 1948.*

“They moved not as immigrants; they were initially thinking it was a temporary thing,” says Father Nabil Haddad of the Melkite Catholic Church in Amman. “It is similar to what Syrians are thinking right now when crossing the barbed wire, not the checkpoints, between south Syria and north Jordan.”

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Welcoming the Stranger: What Jordan's Bedouin Can Teach Us

 Syrian boy in rented flat in Mafraq, Jordan. MCC Photo/Nada Zabeneh
Syrian boy in rented flat in Mafraq, Jordan. MCC Photo/Nada Zabeneh

At the corner grocery in our Jabal al-Webdah neighborhood of Amman, a Syrian man in his early 20s now runs the meat and cheese counter. Ahmed (not his real name) is one of more than 150,000 Syrians who have fled to Jordan since his country’s violence began in March 2011.  

Young males seeking to avoid mandatory military service are one of the largest groups leaving Syria.

Ahmed wires his wages to his family in Syria and calls them each evening to be sure they are still safe. “The situation inside Syria is even worse than reported in the news,” he laments.

A recent UNHCR report notes that, increasingly, Syrians are arriving in Jordan with only the clothes they are wearing and with few economic resources after months of unemployment.

Hussein's Middle East Gambit

In international affairs, no less than interpersonal ones, you're known by the company you keep. Therefore, it is revealing to note that in the Arab world almost all of America's closest friends are hereditary monarchs of a distinctly medieval cast.

Take Jordan's King Hussein--please. Of the bad lot of Mideastern monarchs, Hussein is by far one of the more insubstantial. But he is also one of the most strategically placed, and thus his geopolitical meanderings and manipulations, such as his recent abdication of Jordan's claim to the Palestinian West Bank, bear special scrutiny.

Since 1948, Jordan has served as a repository for much of the inconvenient Arab population of present-day Israel. At least half of Jordan's current residents are Palestinian refugees. From 1948 to 1967, Jordan ruled the Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem, a state of affairs which pumped up the king's prestige and his strategic significance. And post-Watergate investigations of the CIA in the mid-1970s discovered that, for years, Hussein was actually on the agency payroll.

Since 1967, Jordan has continued to claim sovereignty over the West Bank. This claim has given Israel and America a convenient surrogate for the growing inconvenience of Palestinian national aspirations and national institutions. In Israel this surrogate role is sometimes expressed in the statement that Jordan is Palestine, meaning that Jordan, with its historic association with Arab Palestine and its large Palestinian population, is (or could be, or should be) the Palestinian state.

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