A Humbling Example
We experienced the most amazing confluence of cultures this morning on the banks of the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized. Early in the morning we gathered on the terraced steps leading down to the water’s edge on the Jordanian side of the river. Eric gave an enlightening talk about the Israelites crossing the Jordan, John the Baptist’s ministry, and Jesus as a Rabbi. His words were so engaging, actually, that two young Jewish men dressed in black and white with their traditional beards and hair curls joined us in listening intently to Eric’s teaching – from the other side of the narrow Jordan. They were a mere 25 feet away from us across that river, sitting on their own terraced steps, but steps that were in another country, one that is worlds apart in so many ways.
Also listening to Eric was an armed Jordanian soldier, casually sitting amongst us in uniform. When one of the young Jewish men (somewhat) politely interrupted Eric from across the river to make a “correction”, (which Eric handled with grace and aplomb, and happened to be right), the Jordanian soldier instantly became interested in the situation. He stood up, embraced the M-16 hanging across his front, and glared at the man. The young Jewish man reacted with a “so-what” look at the soldier and then, with a mixture of humility and embarrassment, accepted Eric’s answer.
Eric’s lesson continued, but soon both sides of the riverbank filled with interesting and diverse visitors. Soon there was a cacophony of activity: prayers, conversations, chanting, all in a variety of languages and styles, wading in the river, and flinging Jordan River water onto the crowd with a reed. A group of Asians of various ages joined us at the water’s edge, and we slid over to make room on the wide steps. Soon many of them were shin-deep in the water with emotions flowing. Eric persevered in a louder and louder voice, we focused, and the Jewish men across the river put their hands to their ears to hear, but we could not help but take in the bazaar scene, even chuckling at how emotional the people in the other group were.
Eric finished the lesson, and as we were leaving I chatted with one of the older women. When she told me she was from China, it hit me in the gut like a well-timed sucker punch. We were standing next to the persecuted church, that faceless, nameless thing that we pray for……at times…....when we remember. We saw them this morning with arms raised, saw them in passionate prayer, saw them with hands held, and saw them with tears streaming down their cheeks.
At the end of the day we hiked up to the fortress where Herod had John the Baptist executed. When we talked about how John the Baptist put it all on the line for Christ, my mind went back to our morning on the banks of the Jordan River, and those Christians from China. Their similarities to John the Baptist struck me. Just like John, their Christianity can be very costly for them. They may endure things we cannot imagine happening to us – they have to be “all in”. It struck me how insignificant most of our own struggles are in comparison to the challenges faced by people like these. Their passion and commitment serve as an example to us. To many of us, a humbling example.