In spite of Muslim tensions, Jordan has displayed unusual openness to the gospel as Christian tourists visit this 'other Holy Land.'

They call it the home of the sunrise of Christianity, on the right side of the Jordan River--a country of 150 biblical sites. Often overlooked in the scheme of Middle East politics and prophecy, Jordan is clamoring to become every American's experience of the Holy Land.

A country of 4.6 million people, it is ruled by a Muslim royal family that shows enormous sympathy toward Christianity to the point of paying for visits by evangelists such as Benny Hinn, David Yonggi Cho, Morris Cerullo and Ulf Ekman of Sweden. Such ministers come with hundreds of paying visitors in their tow, but it is only in the last decade that Jordanians have seen Christian visitors as beneficial to their economy.

The March 2000 visit of Pope John Paul II made Jordanians realize it was time to boost Christian tourism. The country increased its hotel rooms by 40 percent after it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994. However, Jordan's Christian population of 180,000 souls is shrinking. The bulk are Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians.

Among the 5,000 Protestants, there are five major denominations: Southern Baptist, Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene, Christian Missionary Alliance and Evangelical Free. There also is a Oneness Pentecostal church.

Perhaps the best known spokesman for Jordan's seven Assemblies of God churches is Dikran Salbashian, 48, co-pastor of Weibdeh Assembly of God in downtown Amman. He has served as translator for Benny Hinn since 1995, when the healing evangelist made the first of seven evangelistic trips to Jordan.

"There is not much openness" to the Pentecostal message among Jordanian Christians, Salbashian says, "but we are building bridges with other denominations. Some of the pastors are open to it, but they are afraid of some of the wrong doctrines, such as you must speak in tongues in order to be saved."

He was encouraged that five of the Protestant groups united in May to sponsor Cho's visit at the Amman University arena. Some 10,000 people attended over two nights, and organizers recorded more than 400 conversions.

Salbashian's dreams for his city include a "Middle East Harvest Training Center" that would include a 2,500-seat auditorium (his current church seats 330) and would be the largest evangelical church building in the Middle East. No longer would his church have to get permits for large gatherings or have to rent government-owned meeting halls.

The church has already raised $1.1 million for the facility (70 percent from Jordanians), but it needs an additional $4 million to $5 million more before construction on the 66,000-square-foot lot can begin. This is a huge sum, considering that most Jordanians earn an average monthly income of $125.

"The mentality in the Middle East is that small is good," Salbashian says. "I like the American mentality: Big is good."

Fields White for Harvest

To say that Jordan is a strategic country is an understatement. It fronts Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel and is a short plane ride from Lebanon and Egypt. Most Arabs, who might have problems obtaining visas into some Western countries, have no problems entering Jordan. One little-publicized factor is the 500,000 Iraqi refugees in Jordan, among whom conversions have been made. Jordanians are willing to evangelize their own people, but lack of funds holds them back, says Isam Ghattas, 59, founder of Manara (Lighthouse) Ministries in Amman.

"American missionaries spend $40,000 to $50,000 a year to learn Arabic," he says. "And then they go back to the United States after two years. Christianity in Jordan is not a business. It is a relationship."

Ghattas took a hit three years ago when someone--he suspects Muslim fundamentalists--burned down his Christian bookstore in central Amman. A Christian camp he operates just west of the city of Salt (Job's birthplace) and 27 miles northwest of Amman was also hit with arson.

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