This story was originally published in The Crown, Redeemer’s student newspaper, and has been republished with permission.
I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in Jordan for the semester on the Middle East Studies Program through BestSemester. Being immersed in a different culture, language, and religion has been a fantastic experience. We took courses on conflict and change in Israel/Palestine, Islamic thought and practice, and people and cultures, as well as learning Arabic. We’ve visited the old Roman citadel and amphitheatre in Amman, as well as the old Roman city in Jerash. We visited Madaba and saw many ancient mosaics, explored Mt. Nebo (the place from which Moses saw the Holy Land), and dipped our toes in the Jordan River at the baptism site of Jesus. We visited Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world (featured in Indiana Jones)!
“The trip to Israel/Palestine was an amazing opportunity to see so many biblical sites, as well as hear a wide variety of perspectives on the area’s ongoing conflict.”
On February 14, we left for our two-week trip to Israel/Palestine. We listened to no less than 30 speakers and visited historical sites such as The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, The Garden Tomb, The Mount of Olives, The Garden of Gethsemane, The Old City of Jerusalem, The Wailing Wall, The Dome of the Rock, The Church of the Nativity, and The Mount of Beatitudes in Galilee. We were also able to stay with both Jewish and Palestinian families. The trip was an amazing opportunity to see so many biblical sites, as well as hear a wide variety of perspectives on the area’s ongoing conflict.
I came away from this experience with a heavy heart for the people of the land, and a deep sadness at seeing the conflict being played out daily in the lives of everyone we met. Both communities have suffered terrible mistreatment and, as a result, have deep pain and trauma. It is our job as Christians to promote peace and justice, working towards healing and reconciliation in this troubled land.
Another aspect of this semester that has deeply impacted me is our experience of Arab culture. Arab hospitality is like no other. As soon as you visit someone, they will serve you tea and treat and greet you like family. Our group was invited to our travel agent’s family home, where we were treated to Mansef, a traditional Jordanian dish which consists of rice, lamb, yogurt sauce, and nuts. The twist is, you can only eat it with your hands, sitting on the floor. Needless to say, things got a little messy! After dinner, we were invited out to the patio for a campfire, tea, coffee, and traditional Arab music, consisting of a pipe-like instrument that looked somewhat like a clarinet. At the end of the night, they declared that we were adopted into their tribe! In the Middle East, tribes and family are everything. Being a part of a tribe offers protection and connections, as well as honour and value.
In closing, all I can say is that if you’re thinking about studying abroad, DO IT. It is a life changing experience you should refuse to miss!
Jessica Banninga ’19 will be entering her fourth year at Redeemer this fall, where she is pursuing International Studies and Media and Communication Studies.