Written by Jeffrey Pond // 

The image of a bridge-builder captivates me, and I believe someone who travels well is someone who is a bridge-builder. A bridge-builder sits and listens to others and tries to make a point of connection, but most importantly tries to hear what the other person is actually saying without placing prejudice or bias on them. In this regard, I desire to be someone who can sit with anyone, no matter how apparently different than me, and listen to their story. As a result of this desire, I decided it was necessary for me to move to the Middle East.

My total time living in the Middle East is quickly approaching a year; I believe it is part of a great opportunity to use my experience travelling as a form of multi-dimensional justice. I believe the ultimate way anyone can seek justice while travelling is by listening to the stories and perspectives of the place they are in. For me, this has lately been Jordanian culture. My motivation to come to Jordan was a mixture of angst and curiosity. If you have watched the news at all in the last 16 years you have probably heard a lot about the Middle East and Muslims, as I had. Even though I knew much of what I heard was wrong, I knew I had to live in Jordan to have relationships with people who would help me know the truth.

If I wanted to live a life of freedom and a life of justice I had to overcome my prejudices. I grew up in rural, conservative, small town Texas. 9/11 happened when I was in 2nd grade and the War on Terror has been a broad American narrative for most of my life. I was taught to fear the Middle East and those who call it home.

What does it mean for me to travel with justice? Overall, it means for me to “seek first to understand then to be understood.”[1] To learn to listen is one of the most powerful tools we have as humans. My view of people is that we are all children of God. Everyone deserves to be heard and to speak for themselves.

So what does it mean for me to travel with justice? It means overcoming that I know the truth of every situation and sitting with a people who have long been spoken for by my government and asking them to speak for themselves, because I want to listen. I travel because I want the truth. If I were to sit at home and have my main source of information be my television, I wouldn’t have some of the amazing friends I have today. The friends who invite me to their homes and adopt me into their family, calling me “brother” with no expectation of anything in return. I wouldn’t know what it is like to be just meters from the Syrian border and finally humanize the people my news sources seem to make statistics out of. I wouldn’t be friends with an overly generous Syrian man who, out of the ten times I have gone to his shop, has never once allowed me to pay for my sweets and has always given way more than I ask for. I don’t know if he will ever allow me to pay. He wants to show me that I am welcome in Jordan and he cares more about our relationship than about my money. What is justice? When I can say “As-Salamou Alaykoum” to my Muslim friends and wish them true peace in their life. True justice is learning to see people for who they are and loving them well.

As I learn more and more about this part of the world, I also have a responsibility to share what I learn with people who might not want to or be able to come. I am, in some ways, a voice of clarity to sift through the media of uncertainty in today’s culture. As a bridge builder, it is my goal to connect the East and the West. For the people I love from both cultures to come to a fuller understanding of each other.

When I move back to the Middle East, you are welcome anytime. This is an invitation I will uphold and I know is extended from the generous and dear friends of mine who call the Middle East their home. I’m always surprised at the deep and lasting friendships that can be made in the strangest places. I met one of my best friends in Jordan on a 13 hour plane ride. Maybe a new friend of yours is sitting next to you as you read this or someone you see everyday but you’ve been afraid to talk to them. I encourage you, be bold, be kind and listen. Relationships are worth it.

 

[1] Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

//

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Jeffrey Pond is an aspiring peacemaker and bridge builder who seeks to overcome biases by sitting with and listening to others who he desires to call brothers and sisters. He studied Education, Middle East Studies and Spanish at Wheaton College and had his first professional job teaching 2nd and 3rd graders in Zarqa, Jordan where he made the most incredible friendships. He is currently looking for opportunities to return to the Middle East to live and work on his Arabic and intercultural communication.

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