07 July 2011

Y'all Come See Us!

Reports released in February 2011 showed that Jordan has taken a $70 million hit in the tourism industry. That amounts to around 25% of the kingdom’s income generated by tourists. European and American tourists in particular are avoiding the entire Middle East region.

Mohammad Samih, who chairs The Jordan Inbound Tour Operators Association reported that around 40% of bookings through April 2011 had been cancelled.
To a great extent most of the blame for avoiding the Arab World is the ongoing turmoil in Egypt and North Africa as well as in Syria and Israel.

While caution is certainly prudent when considering a visit to Cairo, Alexandria, Damascus or Jerusalem, even cursory attention to the news would reveal that Jordan is an oasis of peace in the region. The regular Jummah protests each week have been peaceful, uneventful demonstrations with only a single incident to mar them. Jordan remains a safe, quiet and welcoming destination for tourists from all around the globe.

The recent cancellations have not ony affected tourist companies. When tourists decide to stay home or travel elsewhere we all suffer. Restaurant owners, wait and cook staff, taxis, limo drivers and food vendors also suffer. The cancellations have a ripple effect that engulfs the entire kingdom. People aren't able to afford food, clothing and education for their families. Because they can’t afford to spend, business owners’ sales suffer. All round the country we wait and hope for people to come visit us and help stave off economic disaster.

Jordan can, and should be considered by tourists as a stand-alone destination. We have an international airport and a seaport. Our tourist sites are unequalled and our nation is safe. Yes. Completely safe.
American and European travellers should be educated in the realities of Jordan tourism. According to American travel and tourism industry leaders, Jordan is ranked as the 8th most popular destination for adventure tourism and it is one of the top faith-based sites. It is the Biblical Tourist I want to address in this article.

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is home to the site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus and Mount Nebo where God showed Prophet Moses the “Promised Land” and then buried him there. Prophet Jeremiah is said to have hidden the Ark of the Covenant in one of the many caves of Mount Nebo. Prophet Aaron, brother of Moses, is entombed on the top of a mountain overlooking Petra and the town of Madaba has the oldest surviving original map of the Holy Land, showing Jerusalem. It is a mosaic on the floor of St George church and dates back to the 6th century CE. Noah, a “righteous and blameless” man is also linked with Jordan. His tomb/shrine is located at Kerak in the south of Jordan.
In the north of Jordan Umm Qais is the site where Jesus cast the demons into a herd of swine who subsequently ran down the mountain and drowned in the Sea of Galilee and in the south, Prophet Lot and his daughters lived for some time in a cave near the Dead Sea after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The best available candidates to be the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah are the ancient remains of the walled towns of Bab Eddhra’ and Numeira in the southeastern Dead Sea coastal plain. Until today, they show the remains of a fiery destruction after which they were never reinhabited.

The late Pope John Paul II made a pilgrimage to Jordan in 2000 and declared five Christian holy sites as pilgrimage places.

Not far from Amman is the legendary Cave of the Seven Sleepers. According to the story several persecuted Christian boys found shelter there and slept for 309 years. It is a truly astonishing story among so many astonishing stories that originated in Jordan.

This part of the Holy Land is blessed with a rich spiritual heritage. Prophets Abraham, Job, Moses, Ruth, Elijah, John the Baptist and the preacher, Paul each performed critical parts of their ministries in this country. Jacob wrestled with the angel of God, and Elijah ascended into heaven from Jordan.
Prophet Job was from around the city of Salt in northwest Jordan. His story, one of the oldest in the Bible, places Jordan squarely in the beginnings of human faith on earth. Job’s book demonstrates the Bible’s earliest sign of human movement toward monotheism and is an important aspect of the importance of Jordan in the development of the three monotheistic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It was here, in Jordan, that Job tells of the longest recorded speeches of God, Himself; the most profound debate between a human and God; and the first explicit appearance of Satan in the Bible when he asks God’s permission to test Job’s faith.

After being expelled from the Garden of Eden, Adam stood in the waters of the Jordan River for 40 days, praying and begging forgiveness from God. When Cain murdered his brother, Abel he was banished to the area “east of Eden”. He went to one of three sites east of the Jordan River that were later designated as Cities of Refuge.

Time after time, God named Jordan as a land of peace and refuge. Ruth, Elijah, David, Jesus, John the Baptist and the first Christian communities found safety here. Most of the holy sites where the Prophets performed miracles or reached out to ordinary people have been identified and excavated, and are easily accessible to visitors today.

The King’s Highway passes through the hills of northern Jordan, crosses the Jabbok River (Zerqa River) and Jordan River and then through Jordan Valley around Succoth and up to the hill country of Canaan and Palestine near Shechem (Nablus). Propet Abraham would have certainly taken this route in his travels. The highway was first mentioned in Numbers 20:17 when Prophet Moses requested, and was refused, permission to use it to get to Canaan.

When Prophet Abraham’s wife Sarah got into a snit and forced the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael they traveled eastwards into the lands of southern Jordan and on to northern Arabia. These areas were called Paran and Midian in Genesis 14:6, 21:21. Eventually, Ishmael fathered the Arabian tribes and the “sons of the east” (Judges 8:10, Isaiah 11:14). It was through these two sons that the blessings of God were passed on to all humanity.

Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah, his two concubines and their flock of children fled from the home of his Uncle Laban in Haran (modern Turkey/Iraq) and set their caps for Canaan. Laban gave chase and finally caught up with them in Mizpah in Gilead in the hill country above the Jordan Valley (Genesis 31). After reconciling, Jacob and Laban made a lifelong peace when they said “May the Lord watch between you and me while we are absent one from the other” (Genesis 31:49).

I have but scratched the surface of the holy places to be found in Jordan. Come visit us for a truly moving experience and spiritual renewal. No matter where you put your foot, you can be virtually assured that you are in the footprints of one of the Prophets, holy men or women or even of God, Himself.

You are welcome here!

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