Middle East delegation stands in the River Jordan
“When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.” That command comes from the Book of Joshua in the Bible, and many of the 13-person delegation of Global Ministries—leaders and program staff from the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—did just that on a visit to Jesus’ baptismal site on the Jordan River.
The group made its first “pilgrimage stop” on Wednesday, April 29, at Bethabara (Bethany Beyond the Jordan) to see that historic site, experience the walk from the wilderness to the waters, witness the remnants of the centuries-old churches built near the site, and visit a newly-constructed Protestant church the UCC Church Building & Loan Fund supported with a $10,000 grant.
“At the site of Jesus’ baptism, I was especially moved to see the remnants of the 4th-to 5th century church, whose ancient stone pillars are still visible just beneath the water’s surface,” said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of UCC Local Church Ministries. “One of the things I most anticipated when coming to the Middle East was the opportunity to visit here and wade in that holy water, which I indeed did. In one of my favorite hymns, ‘Wade in the Water,’ we sing, ‘Jordan’s water is chilly and cold.’ I can testify that’s true, but it felt mighty fine to me, especially on a 100-degree sunny desert day.”
The two-week trip to the Middle East is an expression of solidarity with ministry partners in the region that sets the stage for the upcoming Global Ministries Middle East Initiative, to launch this June at General Synod 2015.
The Rev. Rolf Pearson, who pastors the Evangelical Lutheran Church at the site, read Psalm 23 to the delegation before they embarked on a 5-minute walk along a winding path, ducking their heads below low-hanging branches before the path finally opened up to the baptismal pool. Those waters,where it is believed Christ was baptized by John the Baptist, are no longer connected to the Jordan River because the drop in the water level has cut it off.
A little further away, where the water now flows separating Jordan from the West Bank, a half-dozen members of the delegation took off their shoes and socks to wade in the waters. It’s a site that draws tens of thousands of people, Christian and non-Christian alike, each year.
“It was powerful to go on the walk,” said the Rev. Mary Schaller Blaufuss, team leader for Global Sharing of Resources, UCC Wider Church Ministries. “I remembered the words [Rolf] said to us: Even with we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, we have to make our own light and keep going.”
After a tour of the historic site, the delegation stopped at the church built by Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land to reflect on their morning and visit the chapel, which opened in January 2014.
“One of the great joys of being part of this delegation was the opportunity to see the just completed Protestant Church at Bethany Beyond the Jordan,” Guess said. “It made me extremely proud to be there and know the United Church of Christ is now part of the global Protestant Christian community that helped make that new-yet-historic church project possible.”
The UCC Church Building & Loan Fund sent a $10,000 grant in December, contributing to the final cost of construction, which began in 2012. The land was donated by the king of Jordan, King Abdallah II.
After a long and intense period of construction, the church and other surrounding buildings were completed, and the location was transformed into a pilgrimage site on the map of holy and historic places in Jordan.
“Here you will see a picture of all Christianity. There are Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, Catholic and Armenian churches here,” Pearson said. “Our main objective is to build understanding and peace, as all Christians want to.”
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