Opinion

Putting People to Faces: Views of the Middle East

This summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Jordan and Israel with Dr. Vila and a group from JBU to participate in the Abila Archaeological Excavation. When I decided to go on the trip, I had no idea what to expect. I was excited, but some of my friends and family didn’t seem to be quite as excited for me to have this experience. Many of them told me it was too dangerous, and one of my mom’s coworkers told her she was crazy for letting me go to a place where “everyone is so violent”.

Comments like this shocked me, but I tried to keep in mind that being a follower of Christ isn’t about being “safe.” Besides, this trip opened my eyes and showed me how skewed our view of the Middle East really is. Sure, some parts are more dangerous than others, but I quickly fell in love with the country of Jordan and its people.

The first time one of the locals invited me over to their house for dinner, I questioned it. “Is this safe? Is this normal? Is this allowed?” I had no idea how to respond. Dr. Vila helped us understand that this was a perfectly normal part of Jordanian culture. Week after week the people of Jordan proved to me that even though they barely knew me, they cared about me and wanted to get to know me.

I had never experienced this kind of hospitality in the United States. We seem to go about our daily lives and only really interact with people who we know well and are comfortable around. To invite a stranger into our home would almost seem taboo in American culture. However, all of the Jordanians were perfectly comfortable with this, and it completely blew me away.
It became clear very quickly to many of us on the trip that our view of people in the Middle East, and their view of Americans, are very warped. Many of our thoughts about each other are put in our head from stereotypes that we develop through media, and many of them are far from true. We hear negative things about Middle Eastern culture and apply it to everyone who lives there, and they do the same to us.

However, many of the Jordanians we met were interested in knowing about our friends, family, and lives back home. They treated us like family and wanted us to feel comfortable during our time in a foreign place. Many of them looked out for us and wanted to escort us places just for courtesy and safety.

I want to encourage everyone to study abroad during their time at JBU. Until this trip, I had no idea how much I would change and grow as a person. The best way to learn is by going out and experiencing something for yourself. I am so thankful that I was able to see firsthand how wrong so many of us are about the Middle East and the Muslim culture in general. God doesn’t call us to be comfortable; He calls us to go and make disciples of all nations. The best way for us to do that is by leaving behind our reservations and wholeheartedly allowing Him to work through us.