Missionary's Life Blessed among Bedouins

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CWN.org - Jordan is a country rich in biblical history. But many of its people live in poverty - particularly the Bedouins, a tribal people who live in the desert.

Eileen Coleman has been called the Mother Teresa of the Bedouins. But she wouldn't like that description.

This 77-year-old Australian missionary is matter of fact about the 50 years she spent serving the poor in the Middle East.

"Yes, haven't suffered at all. Wonderful life. No regrets," Coleman says.

Coleman runs a missionary hospital in the Jordanian desert that provides medical care for Bedouins, a nomadic tribe of Arabs who are increasingly becoming settled in one place.

"I have wonderful friends among the Arab people," she said. "I think some of my best friends in the world are Muslim people who have cared for us and in times of political unrest have fed us, brought us food and stuff. They're great people."

Coleman first set out to the Middle East at 25. It was the 1950s, a time when it was rare for single women to take on the challenges of mission work alone.

On top of that, she was going into a society where women played a far different role.

"They are second-class citizens and they don't have any authority in the family," she explained. "For instance, I learned never to be the one to present my hand, to shake hands. I wait until a man extends his hand and then you respond in like."

Coleman spent ten years in Bethlehem working in a missionary hospital. It was there she met her best friend, Dr. Eleanor Saltow, and they soon decided to join forces.

"We felt that God wanted us to move across the Jordan River to live among the Bedouin people, to be closer to them for medical care, and to just learn their culture and be part of their lives," Coleman said.

So they set off to Jordan without a specific destination in mind and no place to stay.

"We arrived with 11 barrels of equipment that had been donated from North America," Coleman said. "We saw the minister of health in Jordan and he suggested two places in the north of the country. And after visiting these two places, we realized that Narfruk was the place that we should start.

"We didn't have any hospital. We started from scratch. We rented a building and just started," she said.

Those early days were not easy. They were sleeping on the floor. Rats were everywhere, winters were bitter, and dust storms ravaged the parched land for seven months of the year.

"The dust storms have to be tasted to be believed, because when they come across you can see them coming across the desert," she said. "Our desert is not sandy, it's top soil and rocks, and so when this top soil starts to fly with these strong winds, it's like powder and it gets into everything."

Their perseverance gave them the nickname "Desert Rats" after Australian soldiers who fought in North Africa. Those humble beginnings launched the Enora Sanatorium for Chest Diseases, a 60-bed missionary hospital that gives medical care practically for free.

Hospital staff freely share about their faith in Jesus, something that is forbidden in Jordan.

"Jordan is a Muslim country and evangelism as we understand it is forbidden," she said. "But because we own our property now we have permission to-they don't call it evangelize-to worship on our property. And so we do that."

She says Muslims who convert pay a huge price.

"I don't know how brave I'd be if I knew as a man I would be persecuted, could go to jail, and as a woman, could be divorced," Coleman said. "But I think Muslim believers must be very dear to the heart of God."

Coleman now carries on the work without Dr. Saltow, who died in a fire in 1997. But she's not alone. Besides Bedouin workers she's trained up, 20 missionaries now serve in the hospital.

Now she prays for young people to come to the desert like she did and continue her life's work among the people she loves. And she says when her life is over, she hopes the legacy she's left behind can be summed up in one sentence:

"She was a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. That's enough," she said.

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Cheryl Weber

Cheryl Weber

Christian World News

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