We can easily have preconceived ideas of what a place will be like before we travel there. Movies and television certainly can create images that the real place doesn’t even emulate. For example, when we visited the Great Pyramids in Egypt, I expected those three triangles to be out in the middle of the desert! I was so surprised to see that they were at the edge of town; it’s all about the camera angle.
Traveling to the Middle East sounds intimidating, and one should always know where you are going and what travel alerts are posted. We traveled to Dubai and Jordan a couple of years ago. I had no idea what to expect. Dubai certainly is no longer the miles of sand that some of our petroleum engineer friends worked in years ago. This busy city is quite chic, ultra modern and we felt very safe.
I had a small New Testament in my bag, the kind that Gideon’s hand out. My dad was a proud Gideon, and I’m in the habit of checking hotel nightstands for Bibles that have been placed there. There wasn’t one in our Dubai Hotel. I was planning on leaving it, and then changed my mind and it traveled onto Jordan with me. In Jordan, we had the chance to explore more deserts, riding camels into a Bouduin camp near Wati Rum where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed. We hiked into Petra, that recognizable stone city carved into the walls that Indiana Jones made famous in The Last Crusade.
A highlight was going with a guide to Christian sites near the River Jordan. This 156-mile river flows roughly north to south in the Middle East through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea. We had visited the river from the west on a tour to the Holy Land, and now we were approaching from the east, on the Jordan Side. The river is securely guarded to prevent anyone from splashing across from Golan Heights to the West Bank, or from Israel to Jordan. Our small group talked about all the warring and conflict in Bible times and how the tension continues. We worked to put names and places together, especially about Elijah being taken up in a chariot of fire or was it a whirlwind? We couldn’t remember, so I pulled out my little New Testament and looked up 2 Kings and read out loud about that whirlwind.
We walked to the site on our side of the river where John baptized Jesus. Our Arab Muslim guide was very knowledgeable in the history. He referenced the book of Matthew that described the event. I pulled out my little Gideon’s and asked if I could read it and he said “Of course!” As we left the site, he asked me quietly if he could have a copy of that scripture. It was my turn to say “Of course!” and was happy to offer him not just the verse, but the whole testament, which he gladly accepted.
I haven’t forgotten that moment. I hadn’t expected to leave a Bible in a Muslim Arab’s hands. But then again, that is why we travel. To have moments we didn’t expect and to see for ourselves, not to depend on what Hollywood or the news decides we should know.
Patti Beth Anderson has more than 20 years of experience in the group travel industry taking people all over the world. Her motto is "I return with the same number of people I left with… not necessarily the same people, but the same number nevertheless. So no 'crankpots' allowed" She may be reached at 918-786-3318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.