As I sat and wrote this piece on 24 April, I remembered that one year before I had been in Jordan. In fact at one point of the day I was 14 minutes from the Syrian border. Our guide pointed out where the refugee camps were and told us a little about the situation. Jordan has given sanctuary to refugees before and there are whole towns of Palestinian refugees. We asked Mohammed how a relatively poor country like Jordan could afford to care for so many distressed migrants who often came with nothing but fear in their hearts. He assured us that Saudi Arabia was giving generously to fund the camps.
It seemed a wonderful thing that these Muslim countries were coming together to help their own people caught up in this crisis. My illusions where slightly dented when Mohammed added that it was because Saudi Arabia didn’t want refugee camps in their country, but they didn’t mind because it gave people in Jordan work.
That day we finished our tour in Amman, a fascinating city; a fusion of modern and ancient worlds. It was colourful, busy with a vibrant downtown and market, and above all welcoming. I don’t think I’ve ever been anywhere else where people have been so friendly. They called out from cars, “Welcome to Jordan we are your friends” – it took our breath away, it happened so often. People wanted to have their photos taken with us and everyone including school children wanted to talk to us. At first we thought they wanted something, but no, they just wanted to talk.
Of course Jordan is also a Muslim country and they are proud of their faith, their heritage and their king. There are beautiful mosques all over the place and the call to prayer sounds out over loud speakers even in the early hours of the morning. It was a moving reminder that God is at the center of life here.
David Cameron stepped into controversy again recently during an Easter reception for Church leaders where he said: “We should be proud of the fact that we are a Christian country. I’m proud of the fact we’re in a Christian country and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it”. Almost immediately his assertion was challenged by 50 prominent public figures who wrote to a newspaper dismissing his ideas as fostering alienation in a pluralistic society. Other MPs, including Jack Straw, sprang to Cameron’s defence when they pointed out that our society, our laws, education and health system are all based on Christian foundations.
A large section of society in this country seem to be ashamed of our Christian heritage or at least seem to feel it’s irrelevant. Our Jordanian brothers and sisters glory in their faith and Muslim heritage and yet we try to sweep Christianity under the carpet and pretend that it is of no importance to society today. It saddens me – a lot.
In conversation with a British Muslim he said, “I don’t see Britain as a Christian country because I don’t see it acting as one.” Gandhi said something similar. He greatly admired Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount but didn’t become a Christian because he didn’t see Christians living by it. In Jordan there is no doubt about its faith but in this country we are confused. Christianity is now the most persecuted religion in the world. Evidently we don’t need to persecute ourselves by being ashamed of who we are. I don’t necessarily agree with Mr Cameron on many issues but on this I’m with him 100%, we should be proud not cowed.
What can we do? Over Easter a journalist visited a church to find out what all the fuss was about and he wrote that he found it ‘dull and irrelevant’. Yet Christianity is a vibrant living faith. We need to ensure that we are not dull and irrelevant. How? This is a very important issue for Christianity and for each one of us individually. Our society is changing; can we keep up and show how faith can change lives and society for the better?