Reaching the Nations

Jordan

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 89,342 square km.  Landlocked in the Middle East, Jordan borders Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Palestine, Syria, the Dead Sea, and the Gulf of Aqaba.  The Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea, the lowest land elevation location on Earth, and forms the northeastern border with the West Bank and Israel.  Most of the terrain is desert and consists of plains and plateaus.  Some highlands occupy western areas where a rainy season occurs.  Droughts and earthquakes are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include limited fresh water supplies, deforestation, desertification, overgrazing, and soil erosion.  Jordan is divided into 12 administrative governorates. 

Population: 6,269,285 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 2.189% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 3.42 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 78.6 male, 81.18 female (2010)

Peoples

Arab: 98%

Circassian: 1%

Armenian: 1%

There are as many as half a million Iraqi refugees and 1.8 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan. 

Languages:  Arabic dialects (98.5%), Circassian dialects (1.5%).  Arabic is the official language and only language with over one million speakers (6.2 million). 

Literacy: 89.9% (2003)

History

The territory of Jordan was settled by Semitic Amorites around 2000 BC. According to the Book of Abraham, Abraham traveled through Jershon (Jerash or Gerasa) in the territory of modern Jordan on his way into Canaan. Akkadian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Israelite, Babylonian, and Persian kingdoms at times controlled portions of Jordan. Monumental architecture from the Kingdom of Petra, founded by the Nabataens, still stands..  The Romans later took control of the region, followed by the Byzantines.  After the advent of Islam, most the population became Muslim.  Jordan was integrated into the Islamic Empire in the seventh century.  Various Islamic empires governed Jordan until the region was absorbed by the Ottomans in the early sixteenth century.  Following the demise of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the United Kingdom took control of much of the Middle East and created the semi-autonomous region of Transjordan in the 1920s.  The region gained independence in 1946 and changed its name to Jordan in 1950.  King Hussein ruled for five decades starting in the 1950s.  Israel captured the West Bank in 1967 from Jordan and in 1988 gave up ambitions on retaking lost territory.  Greater democratization occurred in the 1990s with the legalization of political parties and holding parliamentary elections.  Jordan strengthened ties with the West in the 2000s, joining the European Free Trade Association in 2001 and supporting the coalition to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003.  As a result of the Iraq War, Jordan continues to house hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees.  In 2009, King Abdallah dissolved parliament and the government and created a new government with powers vested in him by the constitution.  Parliamentary elections are scheduled to occur before the end of 2010.

Culture 

One of the most progressive Arab states, Jordan has taken many social, governmental, and political reforms which have strengthened ties with the West.  In 2007, 20% of positions in municipal councils were reserved for women.  Islam strongly influences daily living and cultural customs and practices.  Jordan shares many cultural similarities with neighboring Arab states as Arabs constitute almost the entire population.  Cuisine primarily consists of lamb, rice, yogurt, nuts, and vegetables.  Mansaf is the national dish, made from lamb cooked in yogurt sauce.  Polygamy is legal.  Cigarette consumption rates are close to the worldwide average whereas alcohol consumption rates are very low due to large Muslim population.  

Economy

GDP per capita: $5,200 (2009) [11.2% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.770

Corruption Index: 5.0

With few natural resources, Jordan has one of the smallest economies in the Middle East, depends on international assistance to stabilize the economy, and faces challenges meeting energy needs.  King Abdullah initiated economic reforms over the past decade to spur greater economic growth and attract foreign investment, such as cutting taxes, privatizing state-owned companies, and removing trade subsides on oil.  The global financial crisis reduced economic growth rates, but did not lead to recession.  Official rates for unemployment and living below the poverty level are below 15%.  Services generate 67% of the GDP and employ 77% of the population whereas industry generates 30% of the GDP and employs 20% of the population.  Primary industries include clothing, fertilizers, refining, potash, mining, cement, manufacturing, and tourism.  Some agricultural activity occurs and common crops include citrus fruits, tomatoes, vegetables, olives, and strawberries.  Primary trade partners include Saudi Arabia, the United States, Iraq, India, and China. 

Corruption is perceived to be among the lowest in the Middle East and comparable to Bahrain.  Allegations of corruption are directed towards low transparency by the government, tight government control over the media, and the petroleum refining industry.  Recently, corruption has become a hot topic of conversation in Jordan.[1]

Faiths

Muslim: 92%

Christian: 6%

other: 2%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Melkite Catholic  120,000

Roman Catholic  25,000

Armenian Catholic  15,000

Seventh Day Adventists  586  7 (includes Lebanon and Syria)

Latter-Day Saints  less than 200  3

Religion

Sunni Muslims constitute 92% of the population.  Most of the remainder of the population is Christian which primarily consists of traditional Christian churches in the region, such as Greek Orthodox and Catholic denominations.  The Christian population has fallen dramatically due to heavy emigration.  There are small populations of Baha'is, Druze, and Shi'a Muslims.[2]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution acknowledges Jordan as an Islamic state but grants the population the right to practice individual religious beliefs as long as they are in harmony with native customs and in good moral standing.  The constitution forbids religious persecution, but the implementation of Shari'a Law by the government limits the religious freedom of non-Muslims.  Overall there is little conflict between Muslims and the Christian minority, although the latter can be heavily discriminated against and persecuted.  The government has made an effort to improve religious tolerance in recent years.  The proselytism of Muslims is not illegal but is strongly discouraged.  The government has harassed those accused of proselytizing Muslims.  Formerly Muslim Christian converts can lose their civil rights and the government has at times attempted to reconvert them back to Islam, still considering Christian converts to be Muslims.  Expatriate Evangelical Christians appear to have the poorest relationship with the government among Christians as they are among the most aggressive proselytizers, are more informal with managing their religious affairs with the government, and were accused of violating immigration laws.  Officially recognized Christian groups include Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Maronite Catholic, Assyrian, Coptic, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist, and Presbyterian churches.  Religious groups registered with the government as societies which not received official recognition include Baptists, Free Evangelicals, Nazarenes, Assembles of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 78%

Amman, Az-Zarqa, Irbid, Ar-Rusayfah, Al-Quwaysimah, Wadi as-Sir, Tila al-Ali, Khuraybat as-Suq, Al-Aqabah, As-Salt.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

Two of the 10 largest cities have an LDS congregation.  40% of the national population resides in the 10 largest cities. 

LDS History

Latter-day Saints have lived in Jordan since approximately the 1950s.  In 1989, the Church obtained permission from the government to register a visitor center in Jordan.[4]  The center is used for local branch functions and for educating the public about Brigham Young University (BYU).  In 1990, 180 BYU students and local members met with Jordan's Queen.[5]  Elder Neuenschwander visited the Amman Branch in July 2010.  The LDS Church remains without official recognition from the government, but is registered as a society. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 200 (2009)

LDS Membership in Amman is primarily comprised of American government employees and their families whereas Jordanians constitute most of the members in Irbid.  In Irbid, there are five or six Arab Latter-day Saint families who are related to each other and belonged to traditional Christian denominations prior to their conversion.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 3

Congregations have functioned in Jordan for at least two decades.  Three branches once operated in Jordan in Amman, Al-Husn, and Irbid.  Sometime in the past decade, the Al-Husn and Irbid Branches were consolidated.  In 2010, two branches functioned in in Amman and Irbid which pertained to the Amman Jordan District.  In 2011, the Amman Branch was divided into two branches: One for English speakers and one for Arabic speakers.

Activity and Retention

Although the LDS Church does not proselyte in Jordan, several Jordanians have joined the Church, all of whom appear to have been formerly adherents of traditional Christian denominations.  Missionary activity occurs through members and on a referral basis to Christians.  Although many native members attend church regularly, many have also become less active.  Some less active Jordanian members appear to have joined the Church in hopes of receiving financial aid and visas to the United States.  Some have become less active due to personal conflicts with other members, especially in the mid-2000s.  Member activity rates for non-Jordanians appear consistent with foreigner Latter-day Saint populations in other Middle Eastern nations or in the United States.  In 2010, several Arab Christian investigators attended church in Irbid and requested missionary lessons in their homes and a few convert baptisms occurred.  Active membership in Jordan appears to be less than 100, or no higher than 40-50% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, English

All LDS scriptures and a wide selection of church materials are translated into Arabic. 

Meetinghouses

In 2010, the Amman Branch chapel could hold up to 70 people. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The LDS Church has conducted significant humanitarian and development work, with as many as 35 projects completed since 1985.  Projects have included donations of wheelchairs, livestock, clothing, appliances, clothing, and bedding.  Clean water and education projects have also occurred.[6]  In 1991, the Church donated a machine for eye surgery to Jordanian doctors.[7]  In 2004, over 500 wheelchairs were donated by the Church to the disabled.[8]  In 2010, A humanitarian senior missionary couple was stationed in Irbid and also mentored local church members.[9]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The LDS Church is registered as a society but is not officially recognized by the government.  It is unclear why the Jordanian government has not officially recognized the Church as a few recognized Christian groups have approximately as many members as the Latter-day Saints.  Humanitarian missionaries have served regularly in Jordan and report no difficulties entering the country.  Overall, the Church appears to enjoy one of the most positive relationships among Middle Eastern governments with Jordan, which has come as a result of decades of humanitarian and development work, positive member example, and respect for local laws and customs regarding proselytism.  There are no legal restrictions for members to teach, although the Church avoids teaching Muslims out of respect for local traditions and to ensure the safety of investigators and converts.  Jordanian converts face some restrictions of civil liberties, such as being unable to serve in the military, as the LDS Church is not official recognized.  

Cultural Issues

The implementation of Shari'a law and the strong presence of Islam throughout the country is a major obstacle to growth as over 90% of the population is unreached by the Church due to their religious affiliation.  The Church has not pursued the teaching of Muslims in accordance with local customs and missionary activity is limited to foreigners and Christian Jordanians.  In accordance with the Muslim holy day and day of rest for the week, Latter-day Saints hold church on Fridays.  If proselytism occurs among the Muslim population one day, polygamy will be an issue for the Church to face.  Those engaged in a polygamous marriage must end these relations in divorce and be interviewed by a member of the mission or area presidency to be considered for baptism.  Low alcohol consumption rates is a cultural characteristic which falls in line with LDS teachings. 

National Outreach

Congregations are established in two cities which constitute 21% of the national population.  However, with the exception of family and personal contacts of LDS members, the entire population in Amman and Irbid are unreached.  Informal member-missionary activity occurs through local members among Christians, especially in northern areas.  Future member-missionary activity will likely be most productive among Jordanian Christians. 

Internet outreach may be an effective means to provide opportunity for more of the population to become aware of the Church and its teachings.  Humanitarian and development work has established a positive reputation among many.  Maintaining a continual presence in Amman and Irbid will be paramount to future missionary activity, especially if the population becomes more receptive to the Church.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

The Church has attempted to maintain a delicate balance in providing assistance to local converts in need without attracting converts who join the Church just to obtain financial assistance.  Several have joined the Church for welfare purposes and are inactive today.  Poor ethnic relations between native converts has also occurred in the past, resulting in some leaving the Church.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Ethnic integration issues have been a major challenge among the small native Latter-day Saint population despite relatively little ethnic diversity in Jordan.  These issues occurred primarily in the mid-2000s in Irbid as a result of several Christian Iraqi refugees joining the Church.  Some Jordanian members, who do not appear active today, so heavily persecuted these Iraqi converts that they returned back to Iraq in 2007. 

Language Issues

Both functioning branches face significant challenges accommodating Arabic and English speakers.  Some members in the Amman Branch have reported that there have been challenges maintaining doctrinal purity among new members, which appears to be partially the result of language barriers.  The creation of a second Arabic-speaking branch in Amman in 2011 offers favorable opportunities for carefully-implemented outreach among the indigenous population through member referral but presents administrative challenges with training branch leaders due to language barriers as English speakers comprise most church leadership in the region.

Missionary Service

Despite few active local members, recently full-time missionaries have served from Jordan.  In 2010, the Irbid Branch had two native missionaries serving as full-time missionaries, one of which was the first Arab sister missionary to serve a full-time LDS mission at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.  Prospects appear poor for increasing the numbers of Jordanian missionaries due to very few youth in the church.  Performing youth-directed outreach among Christians may be an effective means of attracting more youth converts who can serve full-time missions. 

Leadership

Although many natives have joined the Church, leadership positions are primarily filled by foreigners.  This has likely occurred as expatriate Latter-day Saints tend to have greater experience in leadership positions and are more knowledgeable about the gospel.  English-speaking leadership also facilitates communication with the area presidency, which is entirely comprised of Westerners.  However, the lack of local leaders will hurt church growth in the long run as local members will rely on foreigners for administrative tasks and responsibilities.  Returned missionaries, albeit very few in number, will be instrumental in establishing long-term leadership as long as they remain in their home country. 

Temple

Jordan pertains to the Bern Switzerland Temple district.  In 2010, only one known Jordanian Latter-day Saint family had been sealed in the temple.  Distance to the temple, travel expenses, and a lack of sufficient native members to coordinate temple trips is a major challenge which has severely limited temple attendance.  Obtaining visas for European nations with temples may also be an issue in addition to a lack of Arabic-speaking members in Europe who can assist in temple ordinances.   Prospects for a closer temple appear unlikely for the foreseeable future.

Comparative Growth

Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon are the only Arab nations which have had multiple Latter-day Saint converts in recent years.  However, only Jordan and Lebanon appear to have a well established community of native members.  Jordan has yet to be self sustaining in staffing local church leadership, a feat accomplished only by Lebanon in the region.  Jordan has had an unofficial Church presence for about as long as most Middle Eastern nations which have LDS congregations functioning today.  Arab Gulf states like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have larger LDS Church memberships due to the large expatriate presence. 

Other non-traditional missionary-minded Christian groups report slow growth due to the small traditional Christian population and cultural restrictions proselytizing Muslims.  Seventh Day Adventists have declined in membership over the past decade and opened no additional congregations.  Christian groups have  been successful in attracting small numbers of converts, but are unable to experience greater growth due to heavy emigration of converts and traditional among Jordanian Christians. 

Future Prospects

Jordan offers some of the most favorable medium-term prospects for LDS church growth in the Arab world due to an established local Latter-day Saint community, mission outreach centers in two of the three largest cities, positive relations with the government, several convert baptisms in 2010, and local missionaries serving missions in 2010.  Ethnic integration issues among non-Westerners and language barriers at church present ongoing challenges. Jordan has yet become self-sufficient in local leadership.  Indigenous membership faces challenges obtaining adequate teaching and training in Arabic. 


[1]  Lynch, Marc.  "Going after Jordan's Al Capone?," Foreign Policy, 10 March 2010.  http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/03/10/a_rare_crackdown_on_corruption_in_jordan

[2]  "Jordan," International Religious Freedom  Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127350.htm

[3]  "Jordan," International Religious Freedom  Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127350.htm

[4]  "Jordanian leaders approve LDS center," LDS Church News, 9 September 1989.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/19128/Jordanian-leaders-approve-LDS-center.html

[5]  "Jordan's queen greets 180 LDS visitors in palace reception," LDS Church News, 23 June 1990.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/19891/Jordans-queen-greets-180-LDS-visitors-in-palace-reception.html

[6]  "Projects - Jordan," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 7 September 2010.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-63,00.html

[7]  "Gift to Jordan aids eye care," LDS Church News, 5 October 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21379/Gift-to-Jordan-aids-eye-care.html

[8]  "Jordan's Queen Noor joins in wheelchair ceremony," LDS Church News, 28 August 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46041/Jordans-Queen-Noor-joins-in-wheelchair-ceremony.html

[9]  "Pure religion: A new vision," LDS Church News, 19 June 2010.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59482/Pure-religion-A-new-vision.html