The first time Joel Kelling saw the Jordan River, on a 2010 Oxford Brookes University field trip, he was stunned. He was one of only two Christians in his group, and his traveling companions were unimpressed by the puny, polluted river.
“It didn’t have the wonder I anticipated,” he said. “It’s small, it’s low, it’s brown, and it’s unrecognizable from what we might imagine the great River Jordan to be.”
As a Christian, Kelling felt “a strange sense of responsibility” for the state of the river. “You think we should have been the ones protecting this resource.”
Now an Anglican missionary serving in Jordan with his wife, Fiona, Kelling hopes to work with EcoPeace, a local environmental NGO, to bring the Jordan’s plight to his community’s attention. “A lot of people locally don’t even know what state [the river] is in,” he said. But between political turmoil, the refugee crisis, and other local conflicts, Christians living in the Holy Land have many things vying for their attention.
Before the 1960s, the Jordan looked much like it did at the time of Christ. Its annual flow hovered around 1.3 billion cubic meters. “It used to be a powerful river,” said Theodore Varaklas, a tour guide based in Jerusalem. “It was dangerous to cross.” Today, the Jordan’s waters have been reduced to 20 to 30 million cubic meters—a mere trickle of their former flow. The river is now so narrow that in some places you can hop from one bank to the other.
It is an exercise in cognitive dissonance to stand on this river’s polluted shores and believe that it is the Jordan referenced 186 times in Scripture. This ...1