By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
None of us knew quite what to expect when our touring bus pulled up to Husn Baptist Church near the northern border of Jordan a couple of Sundays ago. We were 10 Baptist paper editors from states as far away from each other as the Carolinas and California, guests of the country's tourism board and the Royal Institute of Inter-Faith Studies.
This part of Jordan butts up against the southern border of Syria, a government not so friendly to the West as Jordan, which is perhaps the most moderate of Arab nations. Not far away, we already had visited Roman ruins and looked from a hill there into both Syria to the north and Israel to the east. From our vantage point, the Sea of Galilee was in clear view. We could see the Golan Heights.
We all have read about discord in the Middle East, but from our peaceful vantage point, we could only imagine such things. We stood in the area in which Jesus had brought peace to a tormented man of the Gadarenes by casting his demons into a herd of swine. We wondered exactly where those swine perished over a cliff.
Our hosts had been generous in facilitating visits to Baptist work in addition to the Holy Land, archeological and cultural sites that are very much a part of the land beyond the Jordan from Israel. Husn Baptist Church was our first Baptist site on the evening of our first full day in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, as it is officially known. A friendly layman unlocked the gate to the church property and greeted us.
Four bright-eyed boys who looked to be between 7 and 12 years old soon joined us with curious looks at this group of American men carrying notepads and cameras, speaking nary a word of Arabic.
A couple of us asked if we could photograph the four boys, who gathered around to see the result after each snap. As each additional boy trickled in, we took a new group picture and repeated the exercise until four more had arrived.
Then we took our turns posing with them, sharing first names as we got acquainted before worship. I had played this game in other places on other continents. Children seem fascinated seeing their photographs. Then one youngster jumped up and asked if he could take a picture. I offered my camera, but he declined, instead pulling out one of the sleekest cell phones I had ever seen. He backed away, employed the zoom and snapped a shot.
When we looked at his work, I realized his photo was clearer and brighter than mine. "DVD quality," he beamed. I had been unexpectedly "out-teched."
As we kidded around with these children, it dawned upon me that they were hardly different than I was 45-plus years ago. Our family usually arrived early for church, no matter what the event. As a youngster, I enjoyed the company of my peers as well as the regular adults and visitors who made their way to our church in our small Midwestern town.
This community, not far from two other countries that certainly don't get along well, was not really so different than my own. The rest of the evening, our group was scattered around the sanctuary among believers, who allowed us to hum along as they sang and invited us to the Lord's table to participate in His supper. Like the best churches do, they lingered to fellowship with each other and with us after the formal service had ended.
Though we had significant differences, it was obvious we were not quite as different as we might have thought. It was great to visit our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.