The Pope arrives in the epicenter. Meets with Jordan’s King. Heads to Baptism Site.

King Abdullah II and Queen Rania welcome Pope Francis to Jordan and introduce him to the Crown Prince.

King Abdullah II and Queen Rania welcome Pope Francis to Jordan and introduce him to the Crown Prince.

Pope-MideasttripPope Francis began his first official trip to the epicenter today. It’s an important trip, to be sure. But what’s intriguing to me is how big a deal this visit is being treated by the Muslim leaders of Jordan, and the Jewish leaders of Israel. Both sides seek better relations with Christians in general, and Catholics in particular.

Given that the Pope began his Mideast travels in Amman, Jordan, today, let’s start there.

Earlier this month, I had the honor of traveling to Jordan. During my trip, I met with the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi, and other top officials. As I wrote about at the time, I was doing research for a new book, as well trying to understand His Majesty’s intriguing efforts to build stronger ties between Muslim and Christian leaders. Indeed, a major topic of discussion while I was there was the Pope’s upcoming visit, the third visit by a Pontiff since King Abdullah II ascended to the throne in 1999.

HRH Prince Ghazi specifically encouraged me to visit the Baptism Site along the East Bank of the Jordan River and learn more about its special history and importance. He even provided a car and driver and asked the director of the site to give me a personal tour and briefing. It was a fascinating time (read about it here), especially given the approaching papal visit.

“We are part of the Holy Land,” Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told me during our meeting at his office in Amman.

“Moses came here and died here,” he noted, as did many prophets, including Elijah. “And we are very proud that Jesus came here and was baptized here,” he added.

Ensour noted that “there are very few places where you can be sure the feet of Christ tread on them.” But Jordan is one of them, he said. He pointed specifically to the Baptism Site located along the east bank of the Jordan River, which he described as of the “utmost importance.”

“There you find exactly half an acre where we know Jesus came, where John the Baptist lived,” he told me.

Today, after months of preparation and anticipation, Pope Francis finally arrived, and the Jordan’s have literally rolled out the red carpet.

“Their Majesties King Abdullah and Queen Rania, and Crown Prince Hussein, received Pope Francis at Husseinieh Palace in Amman on Saturday,” reports the Jordan Times. “The King stressed the importance of the message of tolerance, peace and coexistence the Pope is delivering to the region.”

“The Pontiff arrived in Amman as part of a three-day visit to the Holy Land,” the Times noted. “At the meeting with the Pope, King Abdullah said the papal visit delivers an important message of tolerance and coexistence between Muslims and Christians. The King and the Pontiff discussed Jordan-Vatican ties and the need to strengthen dialogue between Muslims and Christians. In his welcoming speech, His Majesty said that it was a ‘special honour’ for the Kingdom that the Pope’s pilgrimage begins in Jordan. The King said that the first official papal visit to a Muslim country was to Jordan, about 50 years ago.”

“It is a special honour that your pilgrimage to the Holy Land begins here, in Jordan: land of faith, land of fellowship,” said King Abdullah II. “Here, fifty years ago, my late father His Majesty King Hussein welcomed Pope Paul the Sixth — the first official papal visit to a Muslim country. Here, fourteen years ago, I was privileged to welcome Saint John Paul the Second; and five years ago, Pope Benedict the Sixteenth.”

King Abdullah said that Muslims and Christians in Jordan are building a shared future “on the common ground of mutual respect, peace and devotion to God,” reported the Times. “Pope Francis commended Jordan’s ‘generous welcome’ to Syrian refugees, which, he said, commands international appreciation and support.”

“I thank the authorities of the Kingdom for all they are doing and I encourage them to persevere in their efforts to seek lasting peace for the entire region,” Pope Francis said.

NOTE: Please follow me on Twitter for updates on the Pope’s visit over the next few days. Thanks.

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My report from Le Chambon, the French town that rescued thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

 

Meeting with Gabriel, 90, a devout Christian in Le Chambon sur Lignon, who joined the Resistance to fight the Nazis and protect the Jews. He was wounded twice.

Meeting with Gabriel, 90, a devout Christian in Le Chambon sur Lignon, who joined the Resistance to fight the Nazis and protect the Jews. He was wounded twice.

 

Presenting a signed copy of "The Auschwitz Escape" to the staff of Le Chambon's museum.

Presenting a signed copy of “The Auschwitz Escape” to the staff of Le Chambon’s museum.

In 1998, the State of Israel honored every single resident of a small French town with “Righteous Among the Nations” status. Why? Because during the Holocaust, the Protestant Christian pastors of this town rallied all 3,000 people to develop a system to hid, house, feed, school and protect some 5,000 people escaping from the Nazis. Most of those who were rescued were Jews, and many of them were children.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit this special town — Le Chambon sur Lignon — of which I had written about in The Auschwitz Escape. I went with an Israeli pastor who was born in France and made Aliyah in the early 1980s. He had been there before and had friends in the town. When he heard that I was using my novel to help draw attention to the remarkable story of these remarkable Christians, he offered to take me there. It was a humbling and amazing experience.

Here is a brief report:

We arrived around 8pm on a Friday night and went straight to the evangelical church in town. Waiting for us was a packed room of about 60 Christians from Le Chambon and neighboring towns who had gathered in this mountain hamlet to learn about God’s plan for Israel & the Jewish people.

The Israeli pastor taught the prophet Jeremiah on God’s “everlasting love” for the Jews, on the importance of Jerusalem in the Bible, and why there has been such a long and fierce struggle for control of Jerusalem throughout the centuries.

“You don’t know me, you’ve never heard of me,” I told the assembled group when it was my turn to share briefly. “But I know you. I’ve heard your story. I’ve studied your story and that of fore-bearers. And God told me to tell your story around the world. I’ve come here to Le Chambon to learn more of your remarkable story. To meet you. To understand why you did what you did. But most of all, I’ve come here to thank you, and to thank your parents and grandparents, for risking your lives to save so many lives, to rescue so many Jews, during the Holocaust. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

That night, I had the opportunity to present a signed copy of The Auschwitz Escape to the pastor and his wife. On Saturday, I was able to present a signed copy of the book to the town historian, and another copy to the director of the town museum (via the staff) which is dedicated to teaching the story to future generations.

We also met with several people who had lived through those terrifying years, including Gabriel, 90, a devout Christian whose pastor was Andre Trocme, the hero who organized the people of Le Chambon to develop a system to rescue so many Jews (for details, see below).

In the days ahead, I will share more stories and pictures from our visit. But today I’d like to just lay out some of the facts of the story — facts that I hope you will share with others. When we say, “Never forget,” and “Never again,” it is selfless courage of heroes like the Christians of Le Chambon that we must remember.

  • Le Chambon is located on the Lignon River, on a wide plateau in the mountains of south-central France.
  • The population of the town in the early 1940s was about 3,000.
  • Remarkably, the townsfolk rescued about 5,000 people, most of whom were Jews, and many of who were children.
  • This was an evangelical Protestant town in a country that was — and remains — largely Catholic.
  • Other Christians from surrounding towns also played an integral role helping rescue all these people — it wasn’t just the Christians of Le Chambon.
  • Also, there were brave Catholics who also helped rescue Jews — it wasn’t just Protestants.
  • That said, the senior pastor of the town at the time was Andre Pascal Trocme.
  • Trocme was born in 1901.
  • His family were Protestant evangelicals, descended from followers of John Calvin.
  • They were descendants of the Hugenots, French Protestants who had been terribly persecuted by French kings who forbade them to preach the Gospel, teach the Word of God, publish or distribute Bibles, baptize believers, or gather for prayer and worship. Thus, the Trocmes — like other Christians in the town and on the plateau — understood what it was like to be a persecuted religious minority standing firm against tyrants.
  • Trocme and his family not only hid, saved, and rescued Jews fleeing the Holocaust, they all organized the rest of the town to help.
  • Trocme was ultimately arrested and sent to a concentration camp for his efforts in rescuing Jews, but later was released.
  • He was recognized by Yad Vashem on January 5, 1971 as a “Righteous Among the Nations” for his heroic work to rescue Jews.
  • When you read various accounts of his story, you quickly discover that he was a faithful, born again, deeply devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
  • Trocme couldn’t bear the thought of people persecuting the Jews, for in his view — according to the Scriptures — Jews are the Chosen People of God, the apple of God’s eye.
  • Trocme knew that Jesus was Jewish, and Jesus’ disciples were Jewish, and all of Jesus’ early followers were Jewish. How could a Christian oppose the Jews?
  • Trocme also believed that when Jesus commanded His followers to “love your neighbor,” that this required to Christians to love and care for Jews, even Jews who didn’t — and might never — believe that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
  • Trocme also believed that when the Apostle Paul (also Jewish) wrote in Galatians 6 that Christians should “do good to all men,” that Paul really men “all” men, including Jews.
  • Trocme’s wife’s name was Magda.
  • Magda was from Italy.
  • Magda was recognized by Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1986.
  • The Trocmes had four children, all of whom helped in the rescue efforts.
  • Pastor Trocme’s nephew, Daniel Trocme, was a science teacher. He was asked by Andre to run a boys school for refugee children, including Jewish refugees, which he readily agreed to do.
  • But Daniel was arrested by Gestapo in 1943, along with 19 boys from his school, six of whom were Jews.
  • Daniel was offered his freedom by the Gestapo, but refused to be separated from the boys entrusted to his care. 
  • The six Jewish boys were sent to Auschwitz and murdered.
  • Daniel was sent to the Maidanek concentration camp where died in April 1944 of sickness and exhaustion. He was 34.
  • Daniel was recognized by Yad Vashem as a “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1976.
  • Another pastor in Le Chambon was Edouard Theis.
  • Theis directed the Cevenol high school nearby, where many Jewish refugee children were educated. 
  • Theis was also arrested for hiding Jews, but was later released.
  • Roger Darcissac was another key leader in the town.
  • Darcissac was head of the public Boys’ School, and also hid and protected many Jews.
  • He, too, was arrested, but later released.
  • To learn more, please read the book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, by Philip Hallie, published in 1994.

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Time cover story describes Putin as a “Czar.” Is he? And so what?

May 8, 2014 cover story.

May 8, 2014 cover story.

(Washington, D.C.) — For the past month, I’ve been traveling in the Middle East and Europe, meeting with pastors and ministry leaders, meeting with some government officials, observing the trend lines, and doing research for a future book. It was a fascinating trip, and I’m so glad I went. I’m also so glad to be home with my wife and sons to reconnect with them and reflect on all that I saw and heard.

In the days ahead, I’ll share more of my observations from that trip.

Today, I’d like to note a Time magazine cover story from May 8th that I didn’t have the opportunity to comment on earlier. The article makes the case that Vladimir Putin does not see himself as Russia’s president or prime minister but rather as her modern Czar.

Below are some excerpts from the article, which I commend to your attention. It’s an important essay, and for me raises several important questions:

  • Is it true that Putin sees himself as a Czar?
  • What are the implications of that view?
  • Does Putin increasingly pose a threat to European national security?
  • Does Putin pose a threat to U.S. national security?
  • Does he pose a threat to Israeli security, as well?

Earlier this year, I was criticized by some for describing Putin as a “Czar” and a danger to the U.S., Europe and Israel. Nevertheless, I stand by my view. It’s a case I’ve been making going back at least as far as 2004. Indeed, I made this argument in some detail in my first non-fiction book, Epicenter, which was published in the fall of 2006. Chapter Seven was titled: “Future Headline: A Czar Rises In Russia, Raising Fears of a New Cold War.” 

That said, let me be clear: I maintain that it is still too early to determine whether Putin is the “Gog” figure described in the Bible prophecies of Ezekiel 38 & 39. However, it is probably fair to say that Putin is “Gog-esque.” That is, Russia’s current leader is acting in some ways that are consistent with the prophecies. But much more would have to happen for us to draw any conclusions. In the meantime, we should be not overreach in our assessments.

Rather, let us be praying for the followers of Jesus Christ in Russia and the former USSR. We should be praying that they not fear Putin, but courageously preach the Gospel, teach the Word of God, make disciples, train pastors, plant congregations and care for the poor and needy. We should pray that they use the most of their time, knowing that the days are evil. And we should look for ways to encourage and refresh and strengthen the faithful believers in Russia. As darkness falls, they will need to operate in the power of the Holy Spirit and stay strong and courageous. Let us also pray for Putin, his family, and his advisors that they would truly seek Christ, read the Scriptures, and give their lives fully to following the Lord, instead of their own power, greed and ambition.

A few outliers notwithstanding, many people around the world are concerned about who Putin is and where he is heading. Indeed, the American people now see Putin as a real and growing threat, and not just to the former Soviet republics but to the national security of the United States and our allies, including Israel.

Recently, in preparation for the release of The Auschwitz Escape, I engaged McLaughlin & Associates, a nationally-respected research firm, to do a poll for us. We asked a series of questions of 1,000 likely U.S. voters. Among them: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “In light of Russia’s invasion of southern Ukraine, and Russia selling arms and nuclear technology to Iran, and Russia selling arms to the regime of Bashar Assad in Syria, I have come to believe that Vladimir Putin and the government of Russia pose a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States and our ally, Israel”?

We found that a remarkable 72 percent of Americans said they believe Putin and Russia do pose a “clear and present danger” to U.S. and Israeli national security. Only 19 percent disagreed.

We would be wise to keep a close eye on Putin and his regime, even as we strengthen the Church in Russia and Eastern & Central Europe.

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Excerpts from Time magazine cover story:

For years, diplomats and analysts from Washington to Berlin have strained to understand what drives Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. George W. Bush claimed to have peered into his soul and seen goodness, only to change his mind later; Barack Obama’s ballyhooed first-term “reset” with Russia fizzled after Putin proved unexpectedly difficult. Winston Churchill’s old line about Russia–”a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”–could easily apply to Putin himself.

Certainly, Vladimir Putin is an unlikely giant of modern geopolitics. Born to a family of modest means in Leningrad in 1952, he made a career in the KGB, which sent him to the front lines in East Germany with the mission of recruiting people to spy on the West. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Putin worked in the city government of St. Petersburg, then joined the Kremlin staff of President Boris Yeltsin, who marveled at what he called Putin’s “lightning reactions” and precision. Yeltsin named Putin the head of the Federal Security Service, which replaced the KGB, and then his Prime Minister. That positioned Putin to become Yeltsin’s successor as President in 2000.

Putin inherited a humbled motherland. The fall of the Soviet Union and the communist system had brought huge territorial losses and economic chaos. An unrivaled U.S. consolidated its power in Europe, in part by expanding the NATO alliance to include former Soviet satellites Poland and the Baltics. Putin saw NATO’s expansion to the east as a threat–and an insulting broken promise. (Some contend that the U.S. agreed not to expand NATO if Russia supported Germany’s 1990 unification.) “NATO remains a military alliance, and we are against having a military alliance making itself at home right in our backyard or in our historic territory,” he told Russia’s parliament in March.

Putin was determined to reverse such slights and restore Russia’s place in the ranks of great powers. That has become an easier idea to assert than it was a decade ago. A surge in global oil prices to more than $100 per barrel brought billions of dollars into Russia’s oil-producing economy, even as the U.S. and Europe were weakened by the 2008 global economic crisis. The cash helped plug holes in an outmoded Russian economy. It also allowed Putin to modernize his military.

Putin then grew bolder. Some of it came in the form of cartoonish machismo: the shirtless horseback rides, the judo matches and other antics for the camera. The restoration continued. In 2008, Putin defied Western condemnation and sent his army into the former Soviet republic of Georgia, ostensibly to protect a pair of pro-Russian breakaway republics–but likely also to punish Georgia’s President, Mikheil Saakashvili, for having cozied up to the West. When Saakashvili told Putin that U.S. and European officials were issuing outraged statements, the Georgian told Time in March, Putin recommended he roll up the papers and “stick them in their ass.”

At the same time, Putin has developed a personal ideology, made up of at least one part personal theology and another part manifest destiny. Putin is Russian Orthodox, a deeply conservative faith with an ancient liturgy, ties to saints of the Middle Ages and an allergy to social change. History haunts the Orthodox: the Russian czars saw themselves as protectors of the world’s Orthodox people–the 19th century Crimean War was fought largely on those grounds–and Putin is increasingly taking up that cause. During the blustery March speech to parliament, Putin invoked the legacy of another Vladimir–the 10th century ruler Vladimir the Great, a prince of Kiev who converted the pagan Slavs to Christianity. “His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilization and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus,” Putin said. At the end of that speech Putin signed a treaty formalizing the Russian annexation of Crimea, the peninsula where Vladimir the Great was baptized in the year 988.

Putin’s faith comes with a socially conservative outlook, one that he uses to disparage the West as morally corrupt and weak. In a December address to the nation, he decried the changing “moral values and ethical norms” in other nations, and in January, he warned that homosexuality was a threat to Russia’s birthrate. On May 5, Putin signed a law restricting profanity in the arts–banning spoken curse words from live performances and adding warning labels to books, CDs and films with purple language. Putin’s imprisonment of three members of the female punk-rock group Pussy Riot must be understood in the context of their offense: performing a profane anti-Putin song beside the altar of an Orthodox church in Moscow.

Then there is the geopolitical creed of Eurasianism, which holds that Moscow is a “Third Rome” that must form the core of a civilization distinct from a decadent and rotting West. Before the Ukraine crisis, Putin’s main foreign policy goal was the formation of a new Eurasian Union, a political and economic bloc uniting Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia. Putin has called it “the will of the era.”

His will, mostly. Putin cracked down on dissent, jailing political rivals and staging an autocratic transition in which he handed off the presidency to his close ally, Dmitri Medvedev, from 2008 to 2012 (while Putin served as Prime Minister), before announcing he would return as President in 2011. Back at the Kremlin, he was bolder than ever, infuriating Washington by granting asylum to the fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden and opposing Obama’s short-lived plan to bomb Syria.

Indeed, there is an unmistakable element of anti-Americanism in Putin and Putinism. His advisers have told Western counterparts that Putin long ago grew tired of being made to feel like a second-class citizen on the world stage by American Presidents from both parties. The frustration showed in private meetings. In his memoir, George W. Bush recounts a sit-down with Putin in which the Russian adopted “a mocking tone, making accusations about America,” so frustrating Bush that, he writes, “I nearly reached over the table and slapped the hell out of the guy.”

Even so, Putin began 2014 on a now forgotten note of moderation. He released several famous political prisoners in late December 2013, including two members of Pussy Riot, and successfully hosted the Sochi Winter Olympics. “He threw this $50 billion party at Sochi to show the world that this was the new Russia,” says McFaul. “I was there, and the scene was, ‘This is not the old Soviet Union–we want to be a respected member of the international community, not a rogue outlier.’ “

As the Olympians competed at Sochi, however, protesters in Kiev were doing violent battle with the security forces of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally who finally fled the country on Feb. 21. In November, Putin managed to persuade Yanukovych to reject an economic agreement with the European Union that would bring closer ties between Ukraine and the West. Now, with Yanukovych gone and blue-and-gold E.U. flags flapping in Kiev’s central square, Putin’s vision of an ascendant Russia had been dealt a severe and embarrassing blow.

He would not let it stand.

A Tepid Western Reaction

Putin’s destabilizing moves in Ukraine have left Western governments struggling for an effective response. The U.S. and the E.U. have now imposed two rounds of sanctions on businesspeople and officials close to Putin. Restrictions on the travel of Russian military officials and on the transactions of Russian banks and energy companies are certainly inconvenient for those who have been targeted. David Cohen, the U.S. Treasury Department official in charge of sanctions, told CNN on May 4 that the sanctions are “strong and strategic.”

Obama’s critics beg to differ. “Days late and dollars short,” GOP Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in an April 28 statement decrying the “disturbing mismatch between Russia’s actions and our weak response to it.” They argue the sanctions imposed to date will barely dent Russia’s $2 trillion economy.

But there’s little appetite for harder-hitting measures….Meanwhile, the body count in Ukraine climbs–and so do tensions. The ethnic nationalism that Putin has unleashed is breeding hatred and paranoia. It’s not clear where Putin plans to steer it next or whether he even knows where it might lead. There is always the risk that whatever Putin’s endgame, bad actors on the local scene now have ideas of their own. Sharing a cigarette with his mother in the hospital’s courtyard, Artur Smolin says he’ll get back into the fight as soon as his leg heals. “We’ll return even stronger,” he says. “We’ll chase them all the way back to Europe.”

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Israel turns 66. Here’s the story of how the U.S. almost didn’t support the prophetic rebirth of the Jewish State in May of 1948.

Israel-rebirth-newspaper(Tel Aviv, Israel) — After an amazing and fascinating week in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for which I’m so grateful, I arrived in Israel last night to celebrate the 66th anniversary of the rebirth of the State of Israel. This is my first time to be here for Independence Day and it is very special.

Today, many take the existence of the modern nation of Israel for granted. But it is actually a stunning miracle and the fulfillment of ancient Bible prophecies.

Indeed, few Americans know how close the U.S. government came to refusing to support the establishment of the State of Israel in May of 1948. Few realize that most of President Truman’s advisors were dead set against the Jewish state, despite the horrors of the Holocaust, and that even many American Jews didn’t support the re-creation of Israel. But God had His purposes. He had His plan. And He made sure His plan came to pass, and remarkably, the U.S. played an interesting role in those prophetic developments.

It is a fascinating story, and one I shared in some detail in my non-fiction book in 2012, Implosion. Here are some excerpts you might find interesting on this Israeli Independence Day:

“The Significance of the Rebirth of Israel”

Over the past six decades, the United States has been Israel’s best friend and chief ally. That warm and strategic relationship began with President Harry Truman’s official and highly public decision to be the first world leader to recognize and support the newly declared State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Yet few Americans realize the tectonic struggle that took place at the highest levels of the U.S. government and almost prevented Truman from making or implementing that decision.

Until recently, despite decades of studying Jewish history, traveling to Israel, and working with various Israeli leaders, I had no idea just how close the Jewish state came to being denied early and critical recognition by the American government. Not long ago, however, an Israeli friend recommended that I read Counsel to the President, a book that takes readers inside the Oval Office and describes the political infighting against Israel in vivid detail. What I found absolutely fascinated me.

The book is the memoir of Clark Clifford, a highly respected Democrat who served as senior advisor for and special counsel to President Truman. Later, Clifford served as chairman of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board for President John F. Kennedy, as secretary of defense under President Lyndon Johnson, and as an informal but highly trusted advisor to President Jimmy Carter before retiring from government and later passing away in 1998 at the age of 91. Clifford’s memoir explains his up-close-and-personal role in some of the most dramatic moments of American history in the post–World War II years, from advising Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco, to helping Johnson seek an exit strategy from the Vietnam War, to counseling Carter during the darkest days of his presidency, to playing poker with Winston Churchill on a train bound for Fulton, Missouri, where Churchill was set to deliver his “Iron Curtain” speech.

Yet Clifford didn’t begin his 709-page tome with a description of any of these events. His first chapter, titled “Showdown in the Oval Office,” begins like this:

May 12, 1948—Of all the meetings I ever had with presidents, this one remains the most vivid. Not only did it pit me against a legendary war hero whom President Truman revered, but it did so over an issue of fundamental and enduring national security importance—Israel and the Mideast.

Clifford noted that Truman regarded then–secretary of state (and decorated Army general) George C. Marshall as “the greatest living American,” yet Truman and Marshall were on “a collision course” over Israel that “threatened to split and wreck the administration.” Simply put, “Marshall firmly opposed American recognition of the new Jewish state,” opposition that was “shared by almost every member of the brilliant and now-legendary group of men, later referred to as ‘the Wise Men,’ who were then in the process of creating a postwar foreign policy that would endure for more than forty years.” President Truman, in contrast, was a strong supporter of Israel, in large part because of his belief in the Bible….


Interestingly, Clifford noted that Ben-Gurion and his advisors had not yet decided on a name for the Jewish state. “The name ‘Israel’ was as yet unknown,” Clifford wrote, “and most of us assumed the new nation would be called ‘Judaea.’”…..

Also interesting is the fact that Truman’s support of the creation of the Jewish state was opposed by many American Jews, a fact unknown or forgotten by many friends of Israel.

“A significant number of Jewish Americans opposed Zionism,” Clifford wrote in his memoir. “Some feared that the effort to create a Jewish state was so controversial that the plan would fail. In 1942 a number of prominent Reform rabbis had founded the American Council for Judaism to oppose the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. It grew into an organization of over fourteen thousand members, which collaborated closely with State Department officials.” Clifford also noted that Arthur H. Sulzberger, the Jewish publisher of the New York Times, and Eugene Meyer, the Jewish publisher of the Washington Post, “opposed Zionism” as well.

Nevertheless, Truman had spoken favorably of the creation of a Jewish national homeland since not. long after taking office. In 1947, for example, Truman had publicly made it the policy of the United States government to back passage of the United Nations Partition Plan, creating the legal framework for the rebirth of the State of Israel as well as an adjoining state for the Palestinian Arabs. To succeed, the Partition Plan needed a two-thirds majority vote of the U.N. General Assembly. With just days to go before that historic vote on November 29, 1947, however, supporters of the plan were still three votes short. Some have suggested that President Truman personally called leaders of other nations to encourage them to support the American position. Others say he didn’t but that staff in his administration did; the record is not clear. Either way, most historians—including David McCullough, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his extraordinary biography Truman—acknowledge that Truman wanted the plan to pass and played a role behind the scenes.

In the end, Truman got his way. The Partition Plan dramatically passed at the last moment, thirty-three to thirteen, with ten abstentions….


Given  Truman’s backing of the Partition Plan, it would seem in retrospect that his decision to formally support the new state of Israel was a fait accompli. But the political crisis inside the White House and State Department was real and festering for the next two days. Tensions mounted, and time was running out. Reporters were asking what the president would do on the issue, and the advisors closest to the president had no clue. President Truman kept his cards close to his vest. Clifford later wrote  that he thought “the chances for salvaging the situation were very small—but not quite zero.”

By May 14, neither the secretary of state nor the secretary of defense nor any of the Cabinet or senior advisors knew which side the president would come down on. Then, a few hours before Ben-Gurion’s scheduled announcement, an aide to Secretary of State George Marshall called Clifford at the White House to say that Marshall still did not support the creation of Israel but would not oppose the president publicly if he declared in favor. This was a significant breakthrough. With less than an hour to go, the State Department aide called back to suggest again that Secretary Marshall hoped the president would delay making any decision for more internal discussions, presumably over the next few days.

“Only thirty minutes . . . before the announcement would be made in Tel Aviv,” Clifford recalled, “the American segment of the drama was now coming to a climax.” Clifford told the aide he would check with President Truman and get back to the secretary. He waited three minutes, then called the aide back, saying delay was out of the question. Finally, at six o’clock, the president formally announced his final decision to Clifford. The United States would recognize and support the State of Israel. Truman handed his statement to Clifford, who immediately took it to the president’s press secretary, Charlie Ross. At 6:11 p.m., Ross read the statement to the press, and thus to the world:

Statement by the president. This government has been informed that a Jewish state has been proclaimed in Palestine. . . . The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new State of Israel.

History had been made. Bible prophecy had just been fulfilled. After a long and painful labor, the State of Israel had miraculously been born in a day. “Who has heard such a thing?” the prophet Isaiah wrote more than seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth. “Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children” (Isaiah 66:8, NIV).

What’s more, the first world leader officially to recognize Israel’s legitimacy was a Christian who had been raised reading the Bible and believed it was true. Most of his senior advisors had vehemently opposed the creation of Israel. Much of the American Jewish community opposed it too. The Arab world would soon turn against the United States and move increasingly into the orbit of the Soviet Union. Yet Truman backed Israel anyway because he believed it was the right thing to do, the biblical thing to do.

“The fundamental basis of this nation’s ideals was given to Moses on Mount Sinai,” Truman once told an audience. “The fundamental basis of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution comes from the teachings which we get from Exodus, St. Matthew, Isaiah, and St. Paul. The Sermon on the Mount gives us a way of life, and maybe someday men will understand it as the real way of life. The basis of all great moral codes is ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ Treat others as you would like to be treated.”

That is not to say that Truman made all his decisions based on Scripture. Truman was an intensely private man when it came to spiritual and religious matters, and he did not often discuss what he believed about the Bible and how he connected those beliefs to public policy. The 1940s were a different age. Presidents rarely discussed such matters with the public. Truman even felt reticent about discussing his beliefs with Billy Graham, as Graham described in his autobiography. However, it is not conjecture to say that Bible prophecy was a critical element in Truman’s decision-making process.

Clifford confirmed it in his memoir. “[Truman] was a student and believer in the Bible since his youth. From his reading of the Old Testament he felt the Jews derived a legitimate historical right to Palestine, and he sometimes cited such biblical lines as Deuteronomy 1:8, ‘Behold, I have given up the land before you; go in and take possession of the land which the Lord hath sworn unto your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.’”

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Please pray for South Sudan. Mass violence could soon “spiral into genocide,” warns Congressman. Situation “eerily reminiscent of what happened in Rwanda 20 years ago.”

SouthSudan-infographicLast week, I was in Jerusalem at Yad Vashem with hundreds of Jewish and Christian leaders from all over Israel and around the world for “Yom HaShoah,” Holocaust Remembrance Day. Together, we honored the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered during Adolf Hitler’s wicked pursuit of genocide. Together, we pledged, “Never again” — the world must never again turn a blind eye to Satanic efforts to exterminate the Jewish people, or any people.

I was invited by the “Christian Friends of Yad Vashem” branch or the Holocaust memorial because of my new book, The Auschwitz Escape, which I wrote both to educate people to the terrible history of the Holocaust and to mobilize people to learn from that history and be vigilant against genocide in our time.

So today I must write about a ghastly situation unfolding in Africa that deserves our focus and our action.

Christians around the world urgently need to praying for peace in South Sudan. We must intercede on behalf of the Sudanese people that the mass killings are stopped and genocide is forestalled. We must also press our government to take decisive action to make certain genocide is not allowed to take place.

With so many other challenges happening in our world today — from the rising nuclear threat in Iran to the horrific civil war in Syria to the rapidly spiking tensions in Ukraine — it is easy not to notice what is happening in South Sudan. But a ghastly spasm of violence is underway. My friend, Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, is both a devout Christian and one of the U.S. government’s foremost voices against human rights violations around the world, the persecution of Christians, religious liberty, and the prevention of genocide. Last week, he held a press conference in Washington warning that the deteriorating situation in South Sudan is increasingly reminiscent of the genocide that occurred in Rwanda twenty years go.

Here are excerpts of the press release his office issued, along with Rep. Wolf’s full statement to the press. Please read, pray, and share with others.

Wolf: Situation In South Sudan Reminiscent Of Rwanda

(Washington, D.C.) — Rep. Frank Wolf, (R-VA), long recognized as one of the leading voices in Congress on Sudan and South Sudan, today called on President Obama to send former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to South Sudan to help end the ongoing violence that is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Rwanda 20 years ago this month.

At press conference on Capitol Hill, Wolf relayed a conversation he had on Monday with an expert on the region who had just been in South Sudan, saying, “I heard of civilians, including women and children, indiscriminately targeted and killed.  I learned of houses of worship turned from places of sanctuary to mass graves.  I was told of ethnic divisions that now run so deep they could take a generation to heal.”

Wolf also showed graphic photos of the atrocities, including one of a pile of bodies from the recent massacre in Bentiu.  Wolf said he heard this morning that another attack in Bentiu could be imminent.  (EDITOR’S NOTE: Links to the photos are at the bottom of the release.)     

“Today, I stand before you as concerned as I have ever been about the state of affairs in South Sudan and the potential for the recent violence to spiral into genocide – a genocide that could defy even the horrors of Rwanda given the oil reserves that are in play,” Wolf said.

Wolf said the United States has moral obligation to help.  “America helped give birth to South Sudan,” Wolf said. “President Obama, you must not allow this to continue.  Call on your predecessors to immediately engage in this crisis before more innocent blood is shed.  Failure to act will be a stain on your administration’s legacy and a blot on your conscience.” 

Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) joined Wolf at the press conference. 

Here is the full text of Rep. Wolf’s April 30th statement on the situation in South Sudan:

“This month [April]  marks the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which nearly a million perished in a horrific 100-day span while the world stood idly by.  As has been documented in print and film, including in Samantha Power’s riveting book “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” cables were sent, reports of the violence and the targeting of innocents received, and yet the American foreign policy apparatus was largely consumed not with stemming the bloodshed, but rather with avoiding use of the word “genocide” lest it necessitate a response. 

“And so many died. 

“And, of course, there is the now notorious negligence of the United Nations in this regard which culminated in catastrophic moral failure on the part of the international community.  Kofi Annan, then head of UN peacekeeping, was receiving on the ground intelligence from General Dallaire about the impending tragedy, and yet repeatedly refused to authorize Dallaire to seize known weapons caches until after it was too late.  What horrors might have been prevented had Annan chosen otherwise?

“Fast-forward several years: President Clinton traveled to the Kigali airport and issued what has come to be known as the “Clinton apology” for failing to do more to stop the violence.  Later, President George W. Bush famously wrote “not on my watch” in the margin of a report on the Rwandan genocide.  No president, Republican or Democrat, wants atrocities to occur on their watch. 

“I venture this much is true of President Obama.  And yet, every indication points to the fact that the crisis currently unfolding in South Sudan is headed the way of Rwanda.  In fact earlier today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, characterized South Sudan as “on the verge of catastrophe.”  But with the stakes as high as they are, the situation is simply not being met with the urgency it demands.

“It is time for bold action.  President Obama should immediately dispatch former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to the region to help negotiate a lasting peace and to convey in no uncertain terms that the fate of South Sudan is a U.S. foreign policy priority.  Both of these men have done a great deal on this issue and have remained invested in Africa beyond their presidencies.  This pair of statesman, hailing from two different parties, would send a powerful message to the warring factions, especially as it relates to South Sudanese President Kiir, with whom Bush and his team forged a lasting relationship during intensive negotiations involved with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and would open immediate lines of communication at a pivotal time.

“I first visited Sudan in 1989, years before Darfur became a household word, and I have prayed for the day when the people of that long-suffering land would enjoy peace and representative government.  I have been five subsequent times, most recently in 2012.

“For more than two decades a steady stream of Sudan activists, Lost Boys and Girls who resettled in the U.S., humanitarian groups operating in the region and others have visited my office.  Whether it was the seemingly intractable war between the North and the South, the genocide in Darfur or in recent years the violence in the Nuba Mountains set against the backdrop of the birth of a new nation, I have followed events closely in that part of the world urging U.S. administrations of every stripe to engage vigorously in pursuit of lasting peace, justice and rule of law.

“While I did not support Obama’s candidacy, I was heartened by his rhetoric on Sudan during the 2008 campaign.  I took further encouragement from some of the individuals who joined his foreign policy team – senior advisors with strong human rights credentials and a stated desire to see the United States lead in the prevention of crimes against humanity and other atrocities. 

“Sadly those words have not translated into action.  Samantha Power, who rose to prominence for her reporting and work on genocide prevention, now represents the U.S. at the United Nations in New York.  I wish her voice was stronger within this administration on this issue.

“Today, I stand before you as concerned as I have ever been about the state of affairs in South Sudan and the potential for the recent violence to spiral into genocide – a genocide that could defy even the horrors of Rwanda given the oil reserves that are in play.

“On Monday, I received deeply troubling reports from individuals on the ground about recent atrocities in South Sudan and the lack of an effective U.S. or international response.  I heard of civilians, including women and children, indiscriminately targeted and killed; I learned of houses of worship turned from places of sanctuary to mass graves; I was told of ethnic divisions that now run so deep they could take a generation to heal. 

“These reports coupled with a smattering of news stories from the last several months belie what can only be characterized as an emergency situation in urgent need of high-level intervention.

“Consider the following excerpts from media accounts:

“• Voice of America, April 21: “The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Monday accused opposition forces in Bentiu of carrying out targeted killings, including of children, and inciting ‘vengeful sexual violence’ against women after they captured the town last week from government troops…. UNMISS also said that individuals associated with the opposition have been using an FM station in Bentiu to broadcast hate speech.”

“• The Washington Post, April 22: “Gunmen in South Sudan who targeted civilians, including children and the elderly, left “piles and piles” of bodies, many of them in a mosque and a hospital, the United Nations’ top humanitarian official in the country said Tuesday.”

“• CNN, April 23: “South Sudanese rebels seized a strategic oil town last week, separating terrified residents by ethnicity before killing hundreds…Residents sought shelter in churches, mosques and hospitals when the rebels raided Bentiu town…”

“• Fox News, April 23: “As rebel forces entered Bentiu last week, residents were led to believe that by entering the mosque they would be safe…But once inside they were robbed of money and mobile phones and a short while later gunmen began killing, both inside the mosque and inside the city hospital…if you were not Nuer nothing could save you.  The gunmen killed wantonly, including children and the elderly.”

“• The Economist, April 26: “Even in a civil war that has been rife with atrocities, the scale of the massacre of civilians in South Sudan’s oil hub of Bentiu on April 15 -16 plumbed a new depth of hell.  The rebel White Army, so-called after the ash its fighters sometimes smear on themselves, killed anyone they suspected of supporting the government, including – it is reported – 200 people in a single mosque and others in churches and aid-agency compounds. Local radio broadcasts helped to stir up ethnic hatred and to direct the violence at perceived enemies of Riek Machar… No side is winning. Hopes of building a new country from scratch are drowning in blood.”

“I have here photos which present a visual image, in some cases quite graphic, of what you have just heard described in words.

“The first several are from a mid-February attack in Bor.  The final photo is from the more recent massacre in Bentiu earlier this month.  We see pictured the “piles” of bodies described in the news accounts. 

“Just this morning I received reports that another attack in Bentiu could be imminent.  Where is the urgency?  Where is the outrage? 

“I read with great interest the recent statements by Kenya’s president in which he said, “During the 20th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, I expressed our region’s disappointment at having done little to nothing at the time to end the slaughter of a million innocent human beings in Rwanda by a bloodthirsty cabal.  I also pledged, in the name of Kenya and the region that we would never again allow a similar genocide to happen within our shores.  I return to the pledge today because of what is happening in parts of South Sudan, we are outraged and gravely concerned at seeing the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians caught up in the internal conflict of the South Sudan Liberation Movement. We refuse to be witnesses to such atrocities and to remain helpless and hopeless in their wake.”

“President Obama, this is happening on your watch.  Will you allow it to continue?  Will you too refuse to be a witness to atrocities?

“News coverage of these events has been sporadic, at best.  While most Americans are likely unaware of the horrors being perpetrated in South Sudan, people who are in a position to help know what is happening.  Cables are being sent to Washington.  Talking points are being drafted at the NSC and Foggy Bottom.  These events are not happening in a vacuum.  Will we see the content of the reports only after it is too late, when enterprising filmmakers and authors dredge up the documents and wonder why no one mustered the will to act?  

“A joint op-ed piece yesterday by long-time South Sudan experts Eric Reeves and John Prendergast opened with the following: “…no civilians in the world are in greater danger than those of South Sudan.” 

“The pair continued, “Unlike the ‘asymmetric warfare’ to which we have become accustomed to hearing about (e.g., Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur), symmetric warfare ensures heavy casualties in military confrontations.  But victories and defeats now have more ominous consequences; for in South Sudan the victors see military victory as justifying civilian slaughter of the predominant ethnic group of the opposing forces.  And with a terrifying momentum, ethnic slaughter leads to yet greater ethnic slaughter.”  In short, crimes have been committed by both sides.  There are no angels in this conflict.  There must be accountability for anyone implicated in these atrocities.  We have the technology, the capacity and the eye-witness accounts to know who is involved and who is actively violating the cease-fire.

“Reeves and Prendergast further warned of looming famine given that planting season has already been disrupted with more than a million forced from their homes.  Ominously, they predicted that as many as 7 million could face starvation this fall.

“The atrocities must stop.  The suffering must cease.  What is the end game?

“America helped give birth to South Sudan.  We have a moral obligation to do something – and something bold.  President Obama, you must not allow this to continue.  Call on your predecessors to immediately engage in this crisis before more innocent blood is shed.  Failure to act will be a stain on your administration’s legacy and a blot on your conscience.”

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Report from Jordan, Day #4: Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour tells me, “We are proud that Jesus came here.” Preparing for the Pope’s visit, the PM urges all Christians to visit Jordan.

Meeting with Jordan's Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour.

Meeting with Jordan’s Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour.

(Amman, Jordan) — As he and his team prepare for the arrival of Pope Francis to Jordan later this month, the Prime Minister of the Hashemite Kingdom, a Muslim man governing a predominantly Muslim Arab nation, has a message for all Christians, be they Catholic or Protestant: Come and walk where Jesus walked.

“We are part of the Holy Land,” Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told me during a thirty minute meeting at his office in Amman on Sunday.

“Moses came here and died here,” he noted, as did many prophets, including Elijah. And we are very proud that Jesus came here and was baptized here,” he added.

Ensour noted that “there are very few places where you can be sure the feet of Christ tread on them.” But Jordan is one of them, he said. He pointed specifically to the Baptism Site located along the east bank of the Jordan River, which he described as of the “utmost importance.”

“There you find exactly half an acre where we know Jesus came, where John the Baptist lived,” he told me.

“In the north you will find first churches in the world,” the Prime Minister added. “We are very proud of this.”

“Christians were persecuted” by the Romans on the west bank of the Jordan River in the first century, “and they were oppressed,” he noted. “So Christianity fled from there to here.”

During our meeting, we discussed several pressing issues, from the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the crisis in Syria to the scarcity of Jordan’s economic and natural resources to Jordan’s aggressive efforts to fight terrorism and maintain calm and stability. In that context, we also discussed King Abdullah II’s efforts to make Jordan a model of moderation and peace.

For me, as an evangelical Christian, it was particularly interesting to see how important the Prime Minister feels about the Biblical history of Jordan, and about the His Majesty’s initiative to reach out to the Christian community around the world and make them feel welcome and at home in the Hashemite Kingdom.

It should be noted that this will be the fourth Pope to visit Jordan in fifty years, and the third to visit since King Abdullah took the throne in 1999. Like several senior officials I have met with in recent days, including the Foreign Minister and the Tourism Minister, the Prime Minister hopes the Papal visit will encourage many more Catholics to come visit Jordan. But he also wants many more Protestants and evangelicals to come, too.

“We are moderates,” he told me. “We don’t hate Jews or Israelis. We can live in peace together….And we are open to Christians. We need your efforts.”

RECENT POSTS:

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Report from Jordan, Day #3: Meeting with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. Warns of the “spread of extremism & terrorism,” especially amidst Syrian “disaster.”

Interviewing Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in his office in Amman.

Interviewing Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh in his office in Amman.

(Amman, Jordan) — The “disaster” in Syria could lead to the “spread of extremism and terrorism,” says a senior Jordanian official, urging the international community to do more to “step up” and help negotiate a political solution while providing much-needed additional financial resources to deal with the humanitarian crisis.

On Saturday, I interviewed Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. I hope to transcribe and publish the full interview soon. For now, let me highlight some of the key points he made about the Syrian crisis and how it is affecting the Hashemite Kingdom and the region.

Some 1.3 million men, women and children have fled from the devastating civil war in Syria to Jordan in the last four years, Judeh (pronounced “Juday”) told me. This includes some 600,000 “registered” refugees, but there are another 700,000 who are not officially registered with the Jordanian government.

Only Lebanon has received as many Syrians as Jordan.

“This is a race I’m happy to lose,” he said.

On Sunday, Judeh will convene a meeting of officials from five nations in the region at the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan to discuss the “humanitarian disaster” unfolding and how best to manage the swelling crisis. These include the foreign ministers from Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. It is the third such meeting in the last year. A key objective is to persuade the international community to “step up to the challenge” and provide more financial resources to each of the countries trying to feed, clothe and house the refugees, even as they help the parties in Syria come to a negotiated political solution sooner rather than later.

The Foreign Minister said he is hoping we won’t see a “decades-long meltdown of Syria.” However, he said the Kingdom is deeply concerned about the “rise and spread of extremism and terrorism” emanating from Syria.

A senior advisor to Judeh told me he worries less about the “implosion” of Syria than its “explosion.” He said the utter collapse of Syria could send jihadi terrorists and foreign fighters spreading into neighboring countries in the region to attack the innocent and try to topple other regimes.

“Jordan has been the target of many threats over the years,” the Foreign Minister said, “but Jordan has survived.” He described the King’s approach as “a model of moderation and modernity,” but noted that “we are a target because of our achievements.”

That said, despite the jihadist threat, and the forces of the so-called “Arab Spring” that have brought down the governments of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, Judeh said the Hashemite Kingdom has learned over the last nine decades how to handle threats and upheavals and maintain a stable, peaceful country.

He said Jordan is “extremely grateful” for U.S. financial assistance to the Kingdom, and the additional funds that have been provided to assist the refugees, noting U.S.-Jordanian relations are “very, very good.”

RECENT POSTS:

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Report from Jordan, Day #2: Was Jesus baptized on the east bank of the Jordan River? Inside His Majesty’s efforts to reach out to Christians & invite them to visit.

I am so grateful for Rustom Mkhjian, the Jordanian official who oversees the Baptism Site, for giving me a personal tour and briefing.

I am so grateful for Rustom Mkhjian, the Jordanian official who oversees the Baptism Site, for giving me a personal tour and briefing.

Standing on the East Bank of the Jordan River. On the right side of this picture is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. On the left is the State of Israel. Amazing how close they are.

Standing on the East Bank of the Jordan River. On the right side of this picture is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. On the left is the State of Israel. Amazing how close they are.

(Amman, Jordan) — On Friday, I had the great joy and honor to visiting The Baptism Site of Jesus.

It is located on the east bank of the Jordan River, a 45 minute drive from the capital of Amman. I spent about four hours touring the national park, guided by Rustom Mkhjian, an absolutely delightful, engaging and deeply knowledgeable Jordanian government official who oversees the site, and I was fascinated by what I saw and learned.

Most Christians — myself included — have long assumed that Jesus was baptized on the western bank of the Jordan River, on the Israel side. That seems to make sense since Jesus was Jewish, His disciples were Jewish, and He was ministering to the “lost sheep of Israel.”

But the Jordanians make an intriguing — and I must say, compelling — case that Jesus was baptized on the east bank of the River.

Are they right?

To be clear, the Jordanians are not trying to create a religious competition with Israel. Indeed, the two nations signed a peace treaty in 1994. What’s more, they are both actively working to encourage more Christians to come and visit both countries. They want Christians to come and see the Biblical and religious sites of enormous historical importance on each side of the River. But one of the fruits of peace were remarkable archaeological discoveries on the east bank.

Let me give you the short version of the case Rustom, an Armenian Christian and native Jordanian citizen, made to me with such enthusiasm and detail:

  • The Bible is crystal clear that Jesus of Nazareth was baptized in the Jordan River.
  • For example, Matthew 3:13-17 says, “Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, ‘I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?’ But Jesus answering said to him, ‘Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he permitted Him. After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.'”
  • The question is: Where was John the Baptist doing his baptisms?
  • The Bible actually provides the answer in John 1:28, “These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.”
  • It turns out John was living on the east bank of the river, baptizing people in the River but also in some springs in a little village — Bethany — on the east bank.
  • Which leads to another question: Why was John on the east side of the River?
  • Because the angel of the Lord told John’s father, Zacharias, that John “will go as a forerunner before Him [the Messiah] in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:17)
  • The Lord Jesus said, “if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.” (Matthew 11:14)
  • So the Scriptures state clearly that John the Baptist was operating in the spirit, power, and prophetic calling of Elijah.
  • Now the question is: Where was the prophet Elijah born?
  • The Bible gives the answer in I Kings 17:1, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab….”
  • Tishbe was a village in the region of Gilead.
  • So where was Gilead located? Again, the Bible provides the answer. In 2 Kings 10:33, we learn that “from the Jordan eastward [is] all the land of Gilead.”
  • So Elijah, a Hebrew prophet, was actually born and raised on the east side of the River, in what today we call the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
  • From where did Elijah return to heaven? Also on the east side of the River, witnessed by his servant (and successor), the prophet Elisha. Re-read the famous and wonderful story in 2 Kings chapter 2.
  • In summary, then, John the Baptist was operating in the spirit, power and prophetic calling of Elijah. The prophet Elijah certainly ministered extensively on the west bank of the River in Israel, but he was born and raised east of the River and went home to be with the Lord on the east side, as well. So John operated primarily east of the River, according to John 1:28. So in all likelihood, when Jesus came to be baptized by John, this happened on the east side.
  • But there’s more, when the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan was signed in 1994, the Jordanian government began to remove the mines that were planted all along the east bank of the River. As they did, archaeologists, historians and Christian leaders discovered the remains of five ancient churches close to the River. They found the remains of a monastery there, too. Yet this led to new questions. Why were Christians building churches close to the River, despite flooding, despite repeated earthquakes, and in the barren wilderness where there were almost no villages and no people? To commemorate something very special that happened there.
  • They began to search through ancient Church history, and the writings of Christian pilgrims throughout the centuries, and what they found was an enormous amount of material indicating that early Christians venerated the area on the east side of the River because they believed that’s where Elijah escaped from King Ahab, and where John the Baptist did his ministry, and where John baptized Jesus.

My goal here is not to convince you. My goal is simply to share with you what I learned on Day #2 of my research trip to Jordan. I had never been there before, but I was intrigued by all of it, and I think you will be, too.

  • You can learn more about the discovery of this site by clicking here.
  • You can read letters from various Christian leaders around the region and the world authenticating the site as the place where Jesus was baptized by clicking here.
  • You can watch an absolutely riveting 50 minute documentary on the subject by clicking here.

What also intrigued me was the commitment Jordan’s King Abdullah II has made to preserving the site, making it a national park, and supporting Jordanian Christians to honor the place and do baptisms there.

The King has actually granted land in the park to thirteen different historic Christian denominations to build churches and facilities for doing baptisms, both by sprinkling and immersion, several of which I had the opportunity to visit and see for myself.

Indeed, the tour I took was graciously arranged for me by His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi, the Chief Advisor to the King for Religious and Cultural Affairs, and the chairman of the commission that runs the park. It was Prince Ghazi’s personal and enthusiastic support for the work of the historians, archaeologists and Church leaders who discovered the site and helped authenticate it that persuaded His Majesty to make its development a top priority.

Since taking the throne in 199, the King has invited three Popes to visit Jordan and visit the Baptism Site of Jesus. The first who came was Pope John Paul II in 2000. Then, in 2009, Paul Benedict came. On Saturday, May 24th, Pope Francis will visit the site, as part of his trip to Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Israel.

Thus, the eyes of the world will once again turn to the Jordan River and the Biblical account of the baptism and ministry of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is a wonderful thing, for Catholics, and for Protestants, for Christians of all backgrounds, as well as for Israeli Jews and Jordanian Muslims, many of whom don’t know the story.

I’m grateful to His Majesty the King, and to his team, for honoring Christians in this way, reaching out to the Christian world to come back and rediscover our Biblical roots and heritage. It is a remarkable and encouraging example of Muslim-Christian friendship, and it is a winsome part of His Majesty’s agenda as the region’s leading Reformer.

Please join me in praying for the King, his family, his government and the people of Jordan, that the Lord may show grace and mercy to them in these difficult times. Please pray, too, for the Christian community here, that they will walk closely with the Lord Jesus Christ and serve Him faithfully in a land where Jesus walked and ministered, as did so many of His prophets and friends. Thanks so much.

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On Day #3, I interviewed Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. I hope to give you details on that tomorrow.

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Report from Jordan, Day #1: Why I came to Amman. Why this country matters.

Jordan's Queen Rania (left), King Abdullah II (in the suit), Pope Benedict, and Prince Ghazi (right) touring Jordan in May 2010.

Jordan’s Queen Rania (left), King Abdullah II (in the suit), Pope Benedict, and Prince Ghazi (right) touring Jordan in May 2010.

Meeting with HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad in Amman on April 30, 2014.

Meeting with HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad in Amman on April 30, 2014.

(Amman, Jordan) — On Wednesday, I arrived here in Amman. Day by day I hope to update you on this blog what I’m learning, but let me begin by explaining why I came.

  1. First and foremost, I am deeply concerned about the future of war and peace in the Middle East, and I’m intrigued by the efforts that Jordan’s King Abdullah II has taken to promote peace and reject extremism. The fact is Jordan is our most faithful friend and ally in the Arab world. More precisely, the King has emerged as the leading Reformer in the Arab and Muslim world. I mentioned him briefly in my 2009 book, Inside The Revolution, but since then I’ve realized that while others are trying to reform their countries, this King is actually doing it. Yet few Americans know much about this country or how serious and incredibly dangerous a blow to our interests and security it would be if Radical Islamic extremists were to topple or destabilize this Kingdom. What’s more, I realized there is so much more I need to learn. So I came to make some friends here, to build relationships with senior Jordanian officials and try to really understand who they are and what they face and how the West can — and should — help them stand strong as Reformers in a region beset with Radicals. I am currently writing a new book dealing with these critical issues, which I expect to be released next spring.
  2. Second, and deeply important to me as an evangelical Christian, I am intrigued by the biblical significance, ancient history and great beauty of Jordan and the importance of promoting Christian tourism to the Hashemite Kingdom. Aside from Israel, no other country is actually mentioned more often in the Bible than Jordan (via such ancient names as Ammon, Moab, Edom, and so forth). It was here that Moses brought the people of Israel and died on Mount Nebo. It was here that Joshua and the children of Israel miraculously crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land. It was here that the prophet Elijah was born and was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire. It was here that the mantle of prophetic leadership passed to Elisha. It was here that John the Baptist lived and ministered, “beyond the Jordan” (John 1:28). It was here that John baptized our Lord Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. Then there is 2,000 years of Christian history here, and 1,400 years of Islamic history. At the moment, I am doing an exhaustive personal study on the Biblical prophecies about the future of Jordan in what the Scriptures call the “last days.” It’s a lot of material, more than I realized. Then, of course, there is the modern history of Jordan, the wars, insurrections, upheavals and triumphs, and then an historic peace treaty with Israel signed in 1994. In recent years, I have had the opportunity to visit Jordan several times, including Petra, and pass through Jordan en route to Iraq four times. In the process, I have to say I have fallen in love with the Jordanian people and geography. The more I learn, the more I realize that more Christians need to come visit here and understand why this country matters to God, to the West, to the region, and why it should matter to us.

On Thursday, my first meeting was with His Royal Highness Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, a member of the royal family and a descendant in the line of the Prophet Muhammad. The Prince is the Chief Advisor to the King for Religious and Cultural Affairs and the King’s Personal Envoy to Islamic, Christian and Jewish leaders all over the world. He helps lead Jordan’s initiative on inter-faith dialogue, which is a special priority of the King. As such, he has played a key role in the visits of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict to visit Jordan. He is currently overseeing the upcoming trip of Pope Francis to Jordan later this month. He also oversaw the King’s initiative to grant land to several Jordanian Christian church denominations  to build worship centers along the Jordan River and facilities at the “official Baptism site.”

My conversation with the Prince was off the record, but I can say that we met for over two hours and I was deeply impressed with this man, his intellect, and his personal warmth and hospitality. I was also intrigued by how passionate he and his King (who also happens to be his older cousin) are to battle against religious extremism, define and defend a moderate expression of Islam, and to build bridges of friendship with the Christian world. Amen.

We come from different worlds. He is Arab and I am Jewish. He is a devout Muslim follower of Muhammad, and I am a devout evangelical follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is royalty, and I am definitely not. Yet we are not so different in age. He was born in 1966, and I was born in 1967. He loves reaching out to people of different faiths and backgrounds and getting to know who they are and what they believe and makes them tick, and this is something I love, as well. I was grateful for his time, and his insights, and I hope we have the opportunity to spend more time together in the months and years ahead.

A few last thoughts on Day One of my trip. 

In preparation for coming here, I read King Abdullah’s book, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace In A Time of Peril, published in February 2011. Then, because I was so intrigued with it, I purchased the unabridged audio version on CD and listened the book. Now, to be honest, some books by political leaders are lame and boring. It’s just a fact. Believe me, I’ve read many of them. I wasn’t sure what I would find in this one, but believe me, it wasn’t boring in the slightest. To the contrary, I found it fascinating, especially as I was reading several other books about the modern history of Jordan. If you have any interest in the Middle East, I highly recommend you take the time to read this book.

I was intrigued by many things the King wrote, but for now, let me finish this column by citing a few key points His Majesty made:

  • “I believe we still have one last chance to achieve peace. But the window is rapidly closing. If we do not seize the opportunity presented by the now almost unanimous international consensus of the solution, I am certain we will see another war in our region – most likely worse than those that have gone before and with more disastrous consequences.” (p. xi)
  • “After the Amman Message, which aimed to discredit the takfiris within the Muslim world and to bring Muslims together in protecting their faith from distortions, we wanted to do what we could to bring Muslims, Christians, and Jews together in peace as religions. We called this initiative the Amman Interfaith Message. On my trips abroad we met with priests, preachers, rabbis, and imams….We invited the pope to come to Jordan and he accepted our invitation….The pope received a very warm welcome in Jordan, with tens of thousands of Jordanian citizens, Christians and Muslims alike, lining the streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of him.” (p. 259-261)
  • “Although it is not widely known in the West, we have in Jordan a small but thriving Christian community that is perhaps the oldest in the world. The Baptism Site is Jordan’s most important Christian site. It is here on the East Bank of the River Jordan (“beyond the Jordan,” according to John 3:26) that John the Baptist baptized Jesus and where Jesus’s mission started and Christianity began.” (p. 261-262)
  • “My dream is that we will link the economies of Israel, Palestine, and Jordan in a common market – patterned on Benelux in Western Europe. We could combine the technical know-how and entrepreneurial drive of Jordan, Israel and Palestine to create an economic and business hub in the Levant. The potential for joint tourism is massive, as is that for foreign investment.” (p. 174)

What brings me to Jordan is a desire to understand who this King is, who his people are, what they want and need, and what dangers and risks they face. Both as a Christian, and as an American, I believe something good is happening in this place. I believe there is more we can and should do to help the King and his people be a force for good in this region, and I promise to keep you posted on what I learn.

Please join me in praying for the King, his family, his government and the people of Jordan, that the Lord may show grace and mercy to them in these difficult times. Please pray, too, for the Christian community here, that they will walk closely with the Lord Jesus Christ in a land where Jesus walked and ministered, as did so many of His prophets and friends. Thanks.

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