How does Jordan fit into Holy Land itineraries for church travel groups?
Malia Asfour: Jordan – the eastern side of the Holy Land that stretches from the Red Sea to the Sea of Galilee – is rich with Old and New Testament history. According to the Bible, Moses is buried here and Elijah was born here and ascended to heaven from the same wilderness where John preached and baptized in the spirit of Elijah and baptized Jesus. There are too many Bible stories to name, but any Holy Land program should include Jordan – it is an integral part of the Bible, not an extension, so it should be an integrated part of any church trip to the Holy Land, not an afterthought.
What would you like church trip leaders to know about Jordan and what it offers for them?
MA: We hear so often from pastors and other visitors that they appreciate the unspoiled nature of our holy sites. We have worked to avoid over-commercializing the biblical locations while at the same time making them easily accessible to groups and individuals coming for religious purposes.
What are some new developments that Christian tour planners should know about?
MA: Jordan has a new state-of-the-art airport in Amman, which opened in June 2013, with the capability to handle more than 12 million passengers each year.
The Bethany Beyond the Jordan baptism park, where Jesus was baptized, continues to provide new ways to welcome visitors. The wilderness and archaeological site is preserved so that when pilgrims visit, they can see and experience the natural environment just as Jesus and John saw it. Outside of the protected area, new churches and guesthouses are being built, so that in the next few years, thousands of pilgrims will have the opportunity to stay and have long-term retreats. The website baptismsite.com is one resource for planners to keep tabs on developments at the baptismal park.
The Dead Sea in Jordan is a natural location for religious meetings, gatherings and retreats. Our state-of-the-art convention center and superior hotels and services offer something for everyone. On the one hand, it is within easy driving distance of the major holy sites; on the other hand, being the lowest place on earth and the largest open-air spa, it is a world away, so the restorative, healing nature of the air and water make it the perfect sanctuary to break away from the ordinary and rejuvenate your mind, body and spirit.
In 2014, our myjordanjourney.com website will offer information and tips for planning trips from North America to Jordan. Combined with the visitjordan.com worldwide website, planners should have a broad range of information and resources to help them plan and book travel to Jordan.
Do some church groups going to the Holy Land stay the whole time in Jordan?
MA: Yes. The rich biblical history makes Jordan a compelling location for church groups who want to dig deeper into the roots of their faith. Pastors and tour leaders can easily spend a week in Jordan following in the footsteps of Jacob, Elijah, John the Baptist, Moses, Jesus and many others, and still just scratch the surface.
What kind of church groups would these be — perhaps those who already have done Israel?
MA: Some groups combine Jordan with Egypt and Israel, especially if they are coming for the first time. Other groups who come on a regular basis and want to dig deeper spend more time in Jordan, given that about half of the Bible took place in what is now Jordan.
Please comment on the new Turkish Airlines service from Istanbul to the Red Sea port of Aqaba and what it means for church groups coming from North America.
MA: Turkish Airlines flying into both Amman and Aqaba gives faith-based travelers more options for traveling into Jordan and experiencing the destination from north to south or south to north! Also, for pastors who want to combine Bible study tours of Jordan and Turkey, this gives them options to tailor a unique teaching program.
(Editor’s note: Turkish Airlines offers nonstop service to Istanbul from Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington and Toronto, with flights from Montreal and Boston beginning in spring of 2014. Royal Jordanian Airlines flies nonstop to Amman from Chicago, Detroit, New York and Montreal.)