THE CHURCH IN JORDAN: SHRINKING AND GROWING AT THE SAME TIME!

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1. History

The modern day Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is the next-door neighbour to Israel, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It is mostly desert but it is strategically located at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and Asia. It was once ruled by the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites of Biblical fame and these Semitic people are direct descendants of Esau. In fact its capital Amman is actually named after the Ammonites of Genesis 19:36-38. It was from Jordan that Moses looked into the Promised Land and it is in present day Jordan that we find the spot where Jesus was baptised. In the New Testament era the Nabataeans and the Romans ruled what is now Jordan as its position was pivotal to the famed Silk Road trade so inviting their control.

The area of modern day Jordan embraced Christianity very early, beginning with Paul’s journeys. It was in Jordan that the Syriac Church of the East, one of the main branches of early Christianity (and the source of two core doctrines of Islam, but that’s another story) thrived for hundreds of years. With the coming of Islam the area was ruled first by the Umayyad’s and then by the Baghdad-based Abbasid’s until their fall in the 13th Century. The Ottoman Turks then ruled through until 1916 and the British ruled Jordan until full independence was achieved in 1946.

2. Today

Jordan’s 10 million people are ruled by a sensible constitutional monarch who reserves 9 out of 130 seats in Parliament for Christians. Jordan’s fragile oil-less economy chugs along on tourism and agricultural products even though it is one of the driest countries on earth. It tries to get on well with all its neighbours, diplomacy being the key to its survival. To that end it is one of only two Islamic countries that have made peace with Israel and it is a key ally of the USA in the Middle East.

Jordan is also stuck in the middle of multiple sets of intransigent conflicts. There is Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, as well as the never-ending Palestinian problem. The Palestinians now actually outnumber the Jordanians in their own land. Then there is the Syrian civil war which sent 1.4 million Syrians into Jordan, severely straining every fabric of society. Iraq’s earlier instability sent another million into Jordan and half have not gone home. And let’s not forget the ever-increasing agitation from Islamists for a more fundamentalist, intolerant future for Jordan. The country is remarkably stable given such a turbulent neighbourhood.

3. Evangelical Highlights

However, times are getting tougher for the remnant church which has been in Jordan for 2,000 years. From some 30% of the population in 1930, Christians now number just 2.2% due to high levels of Muslim immigration and Christian emigration. Jordan’s Christians are very well integrated into society and can be found at all levels. This has created a reluctance to preach to Gospel to the unsaved Muslims.

On the other hand there are many new converts who are invigorating our faith. Secret believers are present within the Muslim community even though it is illegal to evangelise Muslims and for a Muslim to convert to another faith. Life is very tough for these people in this still tribal society where group-think rules. In fact the government closely monitors all Christian evangelism and tries to stop it where it can. This activity includes the recent expulsion of many expatriate westerners. The total number of born-again believers in Jordan now numbers some 20,000, doubling since 1990. Thankfully the numbers of traditional Christians who are emigrating have has slowed to a trickle and the evangelical church is now growing at 3% a year, mainly among this nominal Christian community. However, there has been no real breakthrough among Muslims in Jordan even though there is a wellspring of interest in Jesus and the Bible from within the Muslim community. Are we at the early stages of a move of the Holy Spirit?

4. Prayer Points

  1. Pray for Muslim converts to Jesus, that they would remain strong in the face of enormous pressure.
  2. Pray for spiritual awakenings among the refugees torn from their tribal roots and homelands.
  3. Pray for the few fearless leaders such as Pastor Rashad who are winning converts and training others to do so.
  4. Pray for SAT-7 as it reaches into hundreds of thousands of homes.

5.Pray for Arabic Christian radio as it broadcasts 50 hours a week into most homes.

  1. Pray for Christian literature. It is widely available and often smuggled from Jordan into Saudi Arabia by brave Saudi believers.
  2. Pray for house churches, these are key to church growth in Jordan.
  3. Pray for the 300,000 nomadic Bedouin. Believers are few but do exist.
  4. The Dom Gypsies, cousins of the European Gypsies and in desperate need.
  5. The continuing openness of the remaining Iraqi refugees.
  6. The Palestinians, who are often 2nd or 3rd generation refugees with little exposure to the Good News
  7. Pray for better relationships between the traditional nominal Christians, the new evangelicals and the Muslim background believers.

 

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