Facebook Twitter

Dispatches from Jordan to Israel, part 2: Lowest point on earth, closest point to heaven

SHARE Dispatches from Jordan to Israel, part 2: Lowest point on earth, closest point to heaven

Editor’s note: David Eccles School of Business Associate Dean and Deseret News columnist Natalie Gochnour is traveling this week on a trade mission in Jordan and Israel led by the World Trade Center Utah. The Deseret News asked Gochnour to write about her experiences. In this second dispatch, Gochnour reflects upon Gov. Herbert’s visit with the king of Jordan and a visit made, at the invitation of the Jordan Ministry of Tourism, to the area of Christ’s baptism. She shares an interfaith message of hope and unity.

“Welcome to the lowest point on Earth and the closest point to heaven.” That’s how our tour guide described what Jordanians identify as the location of Jesus Christ’s birth. Also called “Bethany Beyond the Jordan,” this humble setting, located near the Dead Sea, on the east side of the Jordan River and across the border from Israel, includes a humble wooden canopy covering an area where the Jordan River used to flow and the sacred baptism is said to have occurred.

Here, Gov. Gary Herbert, a day after meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan, sat and signed a guest book on behalf of our state, leaving a message of hope, unity and peace:

"My hope and prayer is that as people of all faiths come to this location that God will inspire and motivate his children to build bridges with each other. My prayer is that we will all understand the truth of the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of man. If we can understand this truth, the world will be a better place and peace can be achieved."

Herbert’s message resonates in Jordan, a place with approximately 650,000 registered Syrian refugees in need of help. A young Jordanian entrepreneur told me, “This is how we live in Jordan. We build bridges with humanity.”

Herbert earned his own stripes for welcoming refugees. He was one of only two Republican governors who did not oppose Syrian refugees entering Utah after the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015. In February of this year he attracted national media attention for an Instagram post welcoming a Pakistani refugee family to Salt Lake City on the eve of President Donald Trump’s 120-day suspension of refugees.

Like Herbert, King Abdullah is known for his unifying spirit. In 2010, he proposed and helped pass a United Nations’ resolution promoting goodwill among all people regardless of faith. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, the king said:

"It is … essential to resist forces of division that spread misunderstanding and mistrust, especially among peoples of different religions. The fact is, humanity everywhere is bound together, not only by mutual interests, but by shared commandments to love God and neighbor; to love the good and neighbor."

Clearly, Utah’s governor and King Abdullah II share a common world view.

Derek Miller is Herbert’s former chief of staff and president and CEO of World Trade Center Utah. He attended Herbert’s meeting with King Abdullah II and was moved by the conversation. Miller told me, “The king and governor agreed that the best way to unite the forces for good in the world is through jobs and economic opportunity.” Derek also said they both lamented that the forces for evil in this world unite so easily.

If you are in Jordan, look no further than the neighboring country of Syria. If you are in Utah, look no further than the neighboring state of Nevada and the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay.

There is a lesson here. No matter your religion, no matter your country of origin and no matter your cultural background, the world needs people of goodwill to unite. Muslim, Christian, Jew and others need to make room for one another, succor one another and unite to do good.

I felt this message as I visited the site of Christ’s baptism. The guide showed us a historical map mounted on the wall of the visitors center with a mosaic of the area of Christ’s birth. In addition to the location of the baptism, it showed a lion chasing a deer. Our guide told us the deer symbolizes goodness and the lion represents evil. I took this to mean the struggle between good and evil is part of the baptismal message.

As a delegation, we marveled at the imagery. There we stood at the approximate site of Christ’s baptism. A few miles away stood the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth. And while as a delegation we represented multiple faith traditions and different countries of origin, we knew that here, at what some consider the closest point to heaven, we could look skyward, unite as people of goodwill and hope for a better future.