The number of Christians in the Holy Land is dwindling, making up about two percent of the population in Palestine/Israel. In neighboring Jordan, Christians are about six percent of the population—the remaining 94% is Muslim.
Pastor Samer Azar is the leader of the Evangelical Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, Jordan. He is a Palestinian Christian, born in Jerusalem. His mother was drawn into the Lutheran faith through Lutheran schools. Samer was trained in a Lutheran Seminary at the Makumira University College in Tanzania, Africa, and was ordained in 1996 as a pastor serving the in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) is in full partnership with the ELCJHL. Samer is clear about his identity in Christ. “When you speak about Arab Christians, we are not immigrants. We have been born here. We were here long before Islam came. We are not strangers. We are the original inhabitants and this strengthens our identity.“
As the only Lutheran pastor in all of Jordan, Samer has worked hard to establish a congregation. It is made up largely of refugees from Palestine who emigrated looking for a more peaceful place to live.
In Amman, he attends regular “tent” meetings with people of the community, where dialog is an important way to build relationships with others. When I interviewed him in Jordan recently, he said, “People don’t understand how we are breaking boundaries. A loving approach is very inviting. To present Christ, his love has to be shown to all.”
The country of Jordan under the reign of King Abdullah II has modeled peace and religious tolerance in a manner that Americans should consider. Jordan has opened its borders to millions of refugees over the years, at great cost. When I attended a meeting of religious leaders from around the world to address the Syrian refugee crisis, I found the collaboration between Christians and Muslims to be refreshing.
In a world of increasing religious pluralism, Pastor Samer Azar taught me a great deal about seeking a greater understanding of the context you are serving. He said, “We present Christ – but not by force or to convert or to uproot them from their religious backgrounds. Sometimes this can endanger their lives. We have our own way to present the gospel. We feel that we are very professional in this. The love of God through us has to spread in our natural life.”