“I left my heart in Smakieh.” This saying has been repeated during the last two years by members of the First Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas.

I left my heart in ….

“I left my heart in Smakieh.” This saying has been repeated during the last two years by members of the First Presbyterian Church in Houston, Texas. They have come to Jordan during the last two summers (in July) in order to share with the people of Smakieh their ‘daily bread’ and their efforts for a better future.

Smakieh is a small village of 2000 people, and the only all-Christian village in Jordan. It is located 130 km south of Amman on the edge of the desert region. The Roman Catholic Church and its school for the Latin Patriarchate form the heart of the village.  Through their dedicated work since 1878, the efforts of 33 consecutive priests have initiated all the public services in the village.

On the other hand, Houston is a big city in the south of the United States, with four million people, and the First Presbyterian Church is one of the largest churches there, with approximately 4000 members. How did we come to have such a partnership between two churches and two people? The answer is in the spirit who works to renew the ‘Face of the Earth’.

First of all it is a spiritual friendship between two Churches, but it is also a good start on the road to the full unity of the church. As we talk about inter-faith dialogue, we have the Inter Christian dialogue which is not necessarily a ‘dogmatic’ dialogue, but a dialogue of charity, friendship and joy… it’s a dialogue of life.

Secondly, it is a social friendship. When a young person from the Middle East makes a connection with a layperson from a Western country, a cross-cultural exchange occurs, within which there is always mutual learning and teaching.  Afternoons in July are a time of group discussions that deal with many subjects (spiritual, social, economic, and others). These are characterized by mutual understanding and respect from each side, as they share their opinions.

This is the first step towards reaching full understanding between the two civilizations in the West and the East. I know that politics lead to very different political perceptions by both sides. This is especially true for the American support for Israel, while neglecting the Arab and the Palestinian sufferings and dream of a just peace.

On the ground, and without putting politics on the shelf, you have to listen as well as talk. Step by step, you find yourself trying to change or influence Western public opinion that is usually formed by pro-Israeli mass media and tools of communications. Here, I have to testify that the First Presbyterian Church has always been close to Arab and Middle Eastern problems: Marilyn Borst, the former director of the Mission in the Church, and the Executive Director of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, attended last May the 5th Christian Conference in Baghdad, on the topic of ‘The Church Against the Sanctions”.  Concerning these unjust sanctions, Marilyn said, “We have created this injustice. We have sustained this injustice. We have the power to remove this injustice.”

Back to Smakieh, where this July will mark the 3rd consecutive camp attended by volunteers from the First Presbyterian Church of Houston. They will assist their brothers and sisters, the volunteers of Smakieh, in running the 5th annual Summer Camp. Smakieh and the Houston volunteers are working tirelessly to plan, coordinate and run the summer camp for over 250 children aged 5- 17 years.  The children are from Smakieh and the surrounding area, whose children are Christians and Moslems alike. This is another aspect of the dialogue: the inter-faith dialogue.

Let’s listen to Mary Floye Federer, the new Director of Mission in the Church: “As a volunteer from Houston for the second year, Smakieh is my home and my very dear friends here are truly family. Even with the challenges of our cultural and language difference, it is evident that the Holy Spirit is working within our hearts and broadening our minds to new and wonderful ways of both of our communities. When so many places in this world are divided over differences, it is a blessing to feel the wonderful sense of unity between the Presbyterians of Houston and the people of Smakieh. The unique partnership that has developed in Smakieh helps us to come together as one based on the binding love of our faith. Even when we return to our daily lives in Houston, the Love of Smakieh and the memories shared will continue to impact our lives during the year, and our prayers will always be for our friends in Smakieh and in the lovely country  Jordan.”

And so, these newcomers to Smakieh are not only friends of Smakieh, but also of Jordan, the biblical country that contains many marvelous historical sites. Smakieh, a small village on the edge of the desert of Jordan which in June 2000 commemorated the Christian Jordanian Martyrs of the first centuries, is attracting many people from throughout the world; they come not only in July, but also throughout the year. I say this as an encouragement to all my fellow citizens, for them to know their country, and all its cities and villages more and more.

Father Rif’at Bader
Parish priest , Smakieh