What struck me most as my Arab driver artfully maneuvered the roundabouts and winding streets of Amman, Jordan, was the sense of timelessness in a city made of stone. One of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Amman boasts a 5,000-seat amphitheater built in the 2nd century that is still in use today, and a Christian church built in 326 A.D. On the modern, western side of the city, the gleaming white stone repeats the ancient theme in stately homes, five-star hotels, and a massive, blue-domed mosque in which nearly 3,000 worshipers gather in prayer.
But it was Arab Christians, not architecture, that had brought me to Amman. I spent the next five days in a secluded retreat center listening to lectures and talking with men and women whose stories shook my understanding of what it means to be a Christian in the Middle East. Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding sponsored the gathering and billed it as an opportunity for American and European Christians to "listen to the church in the Middle East." The conference brochure should have come with a warning: "You will leave this place feeling sick at heart, and your tears will continue to fall long after you return home."
I learned, for example, that in the Armenian Orthodox community in Baghdad, 35 Christian leaders have been killed and another 40 have been kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents since the beginning of the war in Iraq. It often surprises Westerners to learn that Christianity is indigenous to Iraq and that prior to the war, Christians lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors. Unfortunately, the increasingly negative view of "Christian America" and the equating of Arab Christians with American imperialism, the Crusades, and Christian Zionism poses an ...1