It’s a long flight from New York to Amman, across the Atlantic Ocean, then down over Europe and the Mediterranean. Israel looks brown and wrinkled from 45,000 feet up — it’s hard to believe such a small, barren-looking strip of land has been at the heart of so much conflict and misery for so many centuries.

Our tour guide’s father was a Palestinian. At eight, he escaped on a bus as the Israelis razed his village. He never got to return to Israel before he died five years ago. Nearly 50 percent of the Jordanian population is Palestinian. Some still live in refugee camps along the border, but most have assimilated into the Jordanian culture. Still, they proudly identify themselves as Palestinians.

We got into Amman at 5 p.m. local time — that’s 10 a.m. Indianapolis time. Sleeping on an airplane isn’t easy, and I’m feeling the effects today. They tell on me in how painfully aware I am of how much I stand out in this Arabic country where 96 percent of the population is Muslim. Most of the women are covered from head to toe, in varying stages of black. Still, the people here have welcomed our group of American Christian journalists with open arms.

Amman is a big city — and the traffic makes LA look tame. Jordanian cars all come equipped with loud horns, it seems, and the drivers make ample use of them on a continuous basis.

Driving from the airport, we passed countryside that looked a lot like Southern California — brown and dry, with scrub brush and the occasional palm tree. Amman itself is a curious mix of fruit and vegetable stands and fast food restaurants, traditional white stone-block homes and modern office buildings. One sees mosques with the same regularity as one would Baptist churches in South Carolina.

Tonight at the hotel, a wedding party arrived, the bride looking shy and very beautiful in her flowing, white gown, her veil thrown back from her face. The men in the party sang and clapped around them. Our tour guide translated the song for us — the men were gladly and loudly exhorting the bridegroom to be “strong” tonight and make good sons.

I’m jet-lagged and feeling some culture-shock, but I’m awed to be in a land that holds such a claim on our religious history. Jordan is the land of the Ammorites, the plains of Moab. It’s where Moses got his only look at the Promised Land, where Jacob wrestled with the angels and Elijah ascended to heaven. It’s where John the Baptist lived and was murdered by Heron, and where he baptized Jesus the Christ.

In the next week, our little group will visit some of those places, along with Greek, Roman, Arabic, and Byzantine ruins. We will climb the towers of Petra, wade in the Jordan River, and float in the Dead Sea. And maybe, if we’re lucky — or maybe if we’re ready — we’ll feel the Holy Spirit move among us in this place where cultures, religions, and peoples have collided and coexisted for millenia.

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