SPIRITUAL RESILIENCY TRIPS: JORDAN AUGUST – SEPTEMBER 2020
By Chaplain Adam Kawaguchi, US Army Reserve
“DUDE! BAPTISMS IN THE JORDAN RIVER
On the itinerary, the Jordan River, Mount Nebo, Madaba and Machaerus represent the most biblical of the sites in Jordan. Jerash has some early churches, Umm Qais is traditionally the site of the demon-possessed man whom Jesus freed by sending the demons into a herd of swine, and Lot’s cave (a monastery marks the site of he and his daughters’ refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah) are also there.
The Jordan River consists of several sites. Elijah’s Hill is where God provided for Elijah during the famine and drought as well as the traditional site of his ascension into heaven in a chariot of fire. It is also the site where John the Baptist was baptized, where the Israelites crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land. It also consists of the historical baptism site, a modern-day baptism site where the Jordan River currently flows, and an alternate site further down that allows for a more sacred experience.
The Jordan River is in full view of Jericho. Imagine being an inhabitant of Jericho and having the perspective that during the flood stage of the Jordan, that no enemy can approach from the east because a raging river a mile across is impossible to cross. From a military perspective, you would have felt secure behind such a barrier! Then you watch as the hand of the Lord holds the waters back near the town of Adam to the north and the Israelite army crosses on dry ground in front of your eyes. No wonder Jericho was terrified! The hand of God is mighty! In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.
From there we take Soldiers to the top of Mount Nebo, a site that is cared for by the Franciscan Order. The climb from the Jordan River to the top is nearly a mile of elevation gain – a fact that impressed one attendee that Moses at 120 years old made it! The Memorial Chapel of Moses is the best viewpoint in all of Jordan in my opinion – on a clear day you can see Jerusalem, Bethlehem and all the way to the Galilee. It is the most peaceful spot as well to pray, meditate and share Moses’ last view of the Promised Land.
We typically ended the day in Madaba to grab chicken shawarma and visit St. George’s Orthodox Church and the Shrine of St. John’s Beheading. St. George’s Church contains what is left of the Madaba map, a floor mosaic that is the world’s old mosaic map, showing a view of the Middle East as it existed in the 6th century AD. One can see sites on both sides of the Jordan River as well as far away as Egypt! Madaba continues the artistic tradition of mosaics today. The other spot we stop at is the Church of St. John. While John the Baptist was not executed here, it is in close proximity to Machaerus where he was. Beneath the modern church are the Byzantine ruins of an older one that is built atop a 3000-year-old Moabite well, which would date back to the time of King David! The water is still drinkable, in fact, some of the best water we tasted!
On other trips, we also went to the Fortress of Machaerus, where John the Baptist was beheaded – a fantastic view of the Dead Sea and you can still see the remains of a cistern like the ones at Masada, the ruins of Herod’s place, and even an intact “mikvot” (Jewish ritual bath) that marks the site as Jewish. A “dungeon” hole still exists that a prisoner would have been lowered into, could be the very one that John the Baptist spent his last days in.
In all, SSG Baker and I were able to take 40 Soldiers and Marines (even trained some Canadians on setting up their own program) to the holy sites and rededicated or reaffirmed 17 baptisms at the Jordan River. I am so grateful that included rededicating my own assistant and Tim on his 40th birthday; Tim returned the favor! We were also able to shoot videos and provide pictures on commemorative baptism certificates so that their families and loved ones could share in the event.
Please continue to pray that beginning a new spiritual chapter/ renewal is not only meaningful in the moment but that the Spirit will use these experiences to draw those into closer fellowship with Him. Several people have told us that the experience of walking the same ground as Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and Jesus has been the highlight of a difficult year far from home and loved ones.
Please pray for those still serving there and the chaplains caring for the Soul of the Army.
For more stories by and about Venture Churches’ chaplaincy opportunities, military, and civilian, visit Chaplaincy – Venture Church Network (venturechurches.org) For information on endorsement, email randy Brandt, Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org