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JORDAN: THE QUEST FOR AN AUTHENTIC CHRISTIAN PRESENCE
BY ERON HENRY

It is the desire of the Jordan Baptist Convention (JBC) to receive official recognition from Jordan’s monarchy. This
recognition is important to the small convention of 20 churches and 1,200 members – one of the biggest in the Middle
East – in order for it to operate with a level of freedom within the country.
It is hoped that the official opening and dedication of the Baptism Center in the Jordan Valley will hasten official
acceptance. It is also hoped that a significant delegation that attended the dedication from the Baptist World Alliance,
led by President David Coffey and General Secretary Neville Callam, will aid the process.
Key to the decision for the recognition of the JBC is Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammed, a cousin to Jordan’s King
Abdullah II bin Al Hussein. Prince Ghazi is chairperson of the Board of Trustees for the official Baptism Site of Jesus
Christ, and an advisor to the king. The prince played a leading role in the drafting of A Common Word, the Muslim letter
signed by 138 Muslim clerics, scholars, and intellectuals that was sent to 27 Christian world leaders in October 2007,
calling for dialogue between the two faiths in an attempt to forge world peace.
The dedication of the Baptism Center on March 20 on the banks of the Jordan River drew a crowd of more than 1,700,
roughly twice the number expected. More than 120 persons were baptized during the event, a number far exceeding
original expectations.
Yet, official recognition from the monarchy is not a given, and may not come easily. Any recognition from the
monarchy is influenced by the obligation to balance freedom and security. In cases where evangelicals are suspected of
aggressive proselytizing, there is likely to be hesitancy in affording recognition.
Thus far, government approval of Baptists and evangelicals rests partly on the cooperation and the agreement of the
Council of Churches, the group that represents most of the historical churches in Jordan, such as Catholic and Orthodox
churches.
The process to get government approval is going apace. Realization that peaceful coexistence is necessary among
all religious groups in the country, Christians and Muslims, is growing among Baptist leaders such as Nabeeh Abassi,
former president of JBC and chief organizer of the official opening and dedication of the Baptism Center.
Evangelicals, which include the Nazarenes, Pentecostals, and other groups, now want to be involved in civil society
and have developed six pledges to which 80 evangelical church leaders have signed on. A letter has been drafted and
sent to the Council of Churches as part of the process to gain recognition from the government.
Some evangelicals are making efforts to exercise greater sensitivity in how they conduct ministry within their
Muslim context. One such effort is in the use of language, such as avoiding the use of words such as “conversion,” which
can be problematic in most Muslim settings, or choosing to use the term “Follower of Christ” rather than Christian.
In the baptisms at the Baptism Center on March 20, great care was taken to ensure that none of the more than 120
persons baptized was from a Muslim family, but from a Christian background.
During the time that the BWA delegation was in Jordan, separate meetings were held with Prince Ghazi and with young
Islamic journalists and scholars. Baptist scholars such as Paul Fiddes, a professor at Oxford University in England and
chair of the BWA Commission on Doctrine
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Photos: One of the more than 120 persons baptized during the opening of the Baptism Center;
Neville Callam speaking during a press conference a day before the opening and dedication ceremony of the Baptism
Center
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