- June 12, 2008
WASHINGTON (ABP)—Baptist visitors to Jordan soon will have a place to worship near the historic spot traditionally viewed as the site of Jesus’ baptism.
King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein of Jordan has conveyed a plot of land to the Baptist World Alliance for a Baptism Center to be constructed on the bank of the River Jordan, alongside many other church buildings being built in the area.
The Baptism Site Commission, an independent board of trustees appointed by the king, will own and manage the center, expected to be completed and opened next spring.
According to the commission’s website (www.baptismsite.com), the site, known as Bethany Beyond the Jordan, is a “legally protected National Jordan Park.”
David Coffey of the BWA and King Abdullah II first discussed a possible center for Baptists in September. Discussions continued with the king’s special envoy and personal advisor, Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammed, who also chairs the commission. The pair reached an agreement during Coffey’s visit to the site May 26.
As part of the agreement, an inscription will be placed at the center’s entrance: “The Commission of the Site of the Baptism of Jesus Christ welcomes here in particular foreign visiting pilgrims from the member churches of the Baptist World Alliance.”
Baptist pilgrims to the site will be able to worship and be baptized at the center.
“We are greatly honored that King Abdullah has granted the global fellowship of the Baptist World Alliance the privilege of using the Baptism Center as a place of worship and pilgrimage,” Coffey said.
“I know that many Baptists and other evangelical Christians will visit the site as pilgrims and some will choose to confess their faith in Jesus Christ in the waters of baptism.”
Coffey noted that he and Prince Ghazi discussed several issues at the May meeting, “including the distinctive meaning of Christian baptism for Baptists and the boundaries of religious liberty.”
Also attending the May session were Nabeeh Abbassi, immediate past president of the Jordan Baptist Convention; its current vice president, Bahij Aqeel; and Nabil Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society and Middle East representative for the European Baptist Federation.
“This is an act of appreciation for Christian presence in the region and a celebration of existing bonds between Arab Christians and Muslims,” Costa said. “Baptists of the Middle East are grateful for His Majesty’s invaluable gesture, and we welcome worldwide Baptist pilgrims to come and experience Middle Eastern hospitality.
In other BWA news, Coffey has been named to a three-year term on the Tony Blair Faith Foundation advisory council.
Former British Prime Minister Blair launched the foundation on May 30 to promote respect, friendship and understanding among major religions and faith as “a force for good.”
The advisory council includes other Christian leaders, such as Baptist pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California, and representatives from other faith traditions, such as Judaism and Islam.