(LWI) - When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) opened the Bethany Beyond the Jordan baptismal (BBJ) retreat almost 8 years ago, the initiative was to offer Holy Land pilgrims a place of contemplation and respite in the historical site of Jesus’ baptism, but pilgrimages stalled when the pandemic shut down travel.
With travel being reinstated around the world, the church is now welcoming visitors again; international groups, Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches and other organizations, to make a pilgrimage, once again, to the sandy colored chapel that sits along the River Jordan.
Since its opening, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Church of Sweden, the Evangelical Church in Germany, and the United Methodist Church have sponsored and sent caretakers to live on site and greet visitors.
The current caretakers until September 2022 are Rev. Knut Kittelsaa and Ann Kittelsaa from the Church of Norway. After the Kittelsaa’s departure, the ELCJHL is hoping to receive caretakers for a three- or four-year term.
Rev. Imad Haddad, pastor of the ELCJHL Good Shepherd Lutheran Church at Amman located about 45 minutes away from the desert retreat, said that the site was left without visitors or a permanent caretaker for two years. BBJ is a part of Haddad’s responsibilities as pastor of the church in Amman.
In comparisons to 11 baptisms recorded in 2018 before the pandemic, this year there have been five baptisms and affirmations of baptisms this year, “mostly for tourist agencies who called on us,” Haddad said.
“The baptism grounds are being revived and visitors are coming more and more, However, we do not have many coming directly to the BBJ.”