Our Family’s International Journey Part 1
Before Rick and I really even knew each other well, we each had a dream of living outside the U.S. some day. After we got married we decided that we needed to finish our studies before that would happen – I went through med school at the University of Illinois while Rick studied at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. We spent two months in Taiwan doing internships at the beginning of our final year of school. Bethany was an unexpected but very wonderful addition during our final year of grad school.
While I was doing my residency in internal medicine and pediatrics, Rick worked as a part-time associate pastor of a church. His primary job was as “Mr. Mom”, giving exceptional care to toddler Bethany and later baby Joshua while I worked long hours at the hospital.
For our first international trip, when Bethany was 4 and Josh 1, we went to England to meet some of the people we would be working with when we moved to the Middle East. We were surprised by how small everything in England seemed: small refrigerators, small washing machines, small milk cartons, small fruits and vegetables, you get the picture. We later learned that these sizes are actually normal worldwide – they only seemed small because America tends to “super-size” everything.
When Bethany was 5 and Joshua 2, we packed up 13 pieces of luggage and 4 carry-ons and moved to Amman, Jordan. We immersed ourselves in the culture and the language. We went without a phone line or internet for about 6 months. The kids attended bilingual nursery school while Rick and I went to full time language school. We got around by walking or by taxi; we didn’t buy a car until we’d been there almost 2 years. That first year we made a couple of trips across the Jordan River to Jerusalem, the villages of Bethany and Jericho, and the Sea of Galilee. We also visited the Dead Sea and Petra (Readers – think of the climax scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).
When Bethany was 6 and Joshua was 3, we traveled around the Middle East to explore various job opportunities. January in the Arabian Gulf is T-shirt weather. United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Oman have a whole lot of desert but also are close to the ocean. Visiting Lebanon in the summer was so beautiful, mountains on one side and the Mediterranean Sea on the other. The traffic on the other hand, is absolutely scary. By the time Jonathan was born in October of that year, we had made the decision to stay put in what had become our beloved Jordan. Bethany entered an all girls’ Jordanian school which was taught all in Arabic except for English and French classes. She was the only non-Jordanian in her class. Joshua entered a bilingual kindergarten and was the only non-Jordanian in his class. They quickly became quite fluent in Arabic and surpassed us in being able to read and write Arabic (not through any lack of effort on our part).
The following year, Rick became the pastor of Amman International church. We got to know people from all over the world – at one point, Rick counted 20 different nationalities represented. Our kids became good friends with Asians, Europeans, South Americans and Africans. Our “world” exploded in experience and understanding of many different cultures and worldviews. Even after people returned to their home countries, we stayed in touch and even got to visit some of them later on. We learned that people are people no matter what they look like or where they are from, created in God’s image – fearfully and wonderfully made.
When Bethany was 9, Joshua 6, and Jonathan 2, we attended a conference in France. We got to meet a bunch of new international friends, enjoy a week-long “camp” in the French countryside, and tour Paris. At one point, we got lost; the French don’t like to speak English with tourists so we thought we’d never find out way, but providentially God led us to a Moroccan market where we got directions by speaking Arabic!
When Bethany was 10, Joshua 7 and Jonathan 3, I had to attend a conference in the UK so we tacked on a trip to Scotland at the end. The grass is truly greener in Scotland. The summer rain was very welcome since we were used to Jordan’s dry season spanning March through October. We listened to the Shrek soundtrack several dozen times as Rick drove on the left side of the road like a pro. They must have a bazillion castles, many of which Rick insisted we visit.
The following winter, we visited friends in Cairo. Walking inside one of the Pyramids was an amazing experience, though poor Joshua got claustrophobic and couldn’t wait to get out. The Sphinx and the Nile River were also very memorable sites. Our eyes were opened to extreme poverty as we drove through Garbage City, an area on the outskirts of the city where all the garbage of the city is dumped. More than a quarter million Egyptians live within this massive garbage dump, and they recycle the garbage in order to support themselves.
Within Garbage City is the Cave Cathedral (AKA St. Sama’ans Church) which is considered to be the largest church “building” in the Middle East, with seating for up to 15,000 people. Garbage City was originally a Coptic Christian neighborhood and these Christians found a way and a place to praise God, even if it meant carving a church in one side of the mountain. It is still a fully functional church.
Thanks for reading this far. I’d love to hear your comments on this story so far. Stay tuned for “Part 2” of this story…!