Veterinary Program Makes Inroads for the Gospel in Jordan

June 14, 2013

Reclusive but resourceful, nomadic Bedouin shepherds live much the same life as their ancestors did during Old Testament times.

Weak from hunger and sickness, the young sheep did not offer resistance when a rope was fastened around its legs. An injection of anesthesia soon rendered the animal motionless. The veterinarian glanced reassuringly at the nervous Bedouin chief who stood in the doorway fingering his Muslim prayer beads.

After applying iodine, the vet made an incision in the sheep´s abdomen. The delicate operation was performed in, of all places, a dingy concrete outhouse.

The Bedouin man observed every detail of the procedure. He stared in amazement as the vet gingerly began to pull out the culprit causing the sheep´s severely bloated stomach. The pieces of black plastic came out easily enough. More challenging was the wad of plastic that had calcified into a tight ball like a tumor.

When all of the shreds of plastic were removed, the vet deftly sewed up the animal´s abdomen and smiled at the Bedouin. “She´s going to be okay,” he announced in Arabic.

The shepherd breathed a sigh of relief. Two more sheep bleated out back in a pen, awaiting their turns.

Life on the fringe

A veterinarian performs abdominal surgery to save this sheep´s life.

It has been said half-jokingly that Bedouin farmers place a higher value on their sheep and goats than on their own wives and offspring. While there may be some debate about that statement, Bedouins will not deny that their very survival rests on the wellbeing of their flocks.

In the case of this farmer, some of his sheep had ingested pieces of plastic that commonly litter the desert. Blown about by the wind, the plastic is typically discarded grocery or garbage bags. If the plastic is not removed from their stomachs, the animals will die of starvation.

For nearly a decade Christian Aid has assisted a Jordanian outreach whose work includes ministry among poor Bedouin herdsmen and their families. Central to their mission is a veterinary program that helps farmers care for their livestock and presents opportunities to share the gospel in a way that resonates with shepherds.

As inferred by their name, the Ministry to Bedouin, Armenian, Gypsy, and Druze (BAGD) seeks to transform the lives of minority ethnic Muslims. Much of their work focuses on the Bedouins, a semi-nomadic people living in desert areas of the Middle East and North Africa.

Bedouins believe they are direct descendants of Ishmael, the firstborn son of Abraham. Like their ancestors, they rely on herds of sheep and goats for their livelihood.

Milk produced by the goats is nourishing for Bedouin children and is used to make cheese and yogurt. Lambs and kids are their primary, if not sole, source of meat. Surplus meat and dairy products are sold at market.

In their world of limited resources, nothing is wasted. Even the hair of the goats serves a purpose as it is used to fashion the tents where Bedouin families live. Women spin and weave the hair into strips of material about a yard wide that are then sewn together. These long black tents provide a dwelling for one family and sometimes for extended family members too. Rugs cover their dirt floors, also woven with both goat hair and sheep wool.

Bedouin children eagerly receive shoes handed out by ministry partners.

Depending on the season, these modern day shepherds lead their flocks from place to place, looking for sustainable grazing land and water. For nomadic families, that means pulling up their tents and moving their few possessions to another stretch of desert.

It´s a hardscrabble existence, and keeping their herds healthy is of paramount importance.

BAGD operates a mobile veterinary clinic and employs a veterinarian who makes “tent calls” to Bedouin homes. He provides basic medical care for the animals, gives vaccinations, and performs operations that range from setting broken limbs to extensive internal procedures.

The program has proved greatly beneficial as shepherds learn modern livestock practices and improve the economic situation for their families. These significant strides are only part of the story, however. Through this Christian ministry, the oft-forgotten Bedouins are hearing the wonderful news of the Good Shepherd who came to deliver them from their sins.

As an ethnic minority, Bedouin tribes live on the fringes of Arab society and are considered among the lowest class in the Middle East. They are practicing Muslims, but the Bedouins are somewhat more open to hearing the gospel than are mainstream followers of the faith.

BAGD oversees a variety of programs that offer opportunities to build relationships with the Bedouins and share the love of Christ. For several years the ministry has sent workers into Bedouin schools to hand out backpacks and school supplies. Always a hit with the children are the accompanying puppet shows and dramatic presentations that communicate biblical truths in an engaging way.

For women, educational seminars lend guidance to health issues, parenting, and other practical topics.

As BAGD workers interact with Bedouin herdsmen and their families, they tell them about God´s gift of salvation. Most gratefully accept copies of the New Testament and audiocassette versions of Bible books. In time, some become believers and start small fellowships.

Nurturing a spiritual flock

Bedouin tents contain meager furnishings that are often handmade.

Building on the success of the mobile veterinary program, BAGD would like to open a permanent clinic in an area of southern Jordan where there is a large Bedouin community. A central location would enable staff to help more animals and expand the ministry´s outreach to additional families.

The facility would serve multiple purposes. Plans include a veterinarian pharmacy where Bedouins can purchase medicines for their animals and a vocational training building for young men to learn carpentry, welding, and other trades. A pre-school would be added for children ages 3 to 5, giving them a head start on education. Bedouin women will assist with classroom activities so they can teach similar curriculum to children in their settlements and prepare them for school.

BAGD is also interested in reviving a children´s livestock project that Christian Aid has sponsored in the past. The ministry would give a Bedouin boy a lamb or baby goat to raise, teaching him practical skills and responsibility and providing a means to purchase school supplies.

Christian Aid donors have already supplied funds for land purchase and related expenses, but BAGD needs additional support to construct the complex and buy equipment and animals for the projects.

“We have many fruitful opportunities for sharing the gospel,” said a ministry leader. “Other Muslims pay little attention to the Bedouins. It is an open door for Christians to minister to them. Pray for us.”