We Fled Petra!
Good News Magazine
October-November 1966
Volume: Vol XV, No. 10-11
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We Fled Petra!
Norman A Smith  

What should your attitude toward Petra be? What is it like there? Here is an eyewitness report from the Director of the Radio Studio and Evangelist rank minister.

   "WE'RE GOING TO PETRA!" Electrifying words, those. Where will you be when you hear them? What will be your attitude? Will you be ready? Or will you ever hear those words?
   Our schedule called for a trip to Petra on Thursday, April 28th. As you have heard on the broadcast and read in The PLAIN TRUTH we were delayed a day in Lebanon in order that we might arrive at the airport in Amman just at the time of the Royal send-off of some of the Arab Sheiks by King Hussein.


   After clearing customs at the Amman Airport our party was divided up into several different taxis for the journey to Jerusalem. Each taxi was already partially filled with other groups so we had to split up to fill the remaining spaces in each taxi. It was a noisy ride to Jerusalem. The cars were quiet enough '65 or '66 Dodges and Plymouths. It was the drivers and their proclivity to blow their horns at any and everything that happened to be on or alongside of the road that caused the problem.
   On the outskirts of Jerusalem we approached a sign in bold black letters "NO SOUNDING OF THE HORN WITHIN CITY LIMITS." I thought, "That's great. What a relief." To my amazement the driver gave two or three blasts of the horn to show his contempt for the sign and proceeded to sound off more frequently as the traffic thickened. You heard the din of horn blowing on one of the programs made in Jerusalem. I soon surmised that the lowest indignity you could heap upon an Arab taxi driver would be to clip his horn wire. He would be utterly frustrated.
   Mr. Armstrong had had enough of guides and taxi drivers for a while; therefore, our first move after checking in at the Intercontinental Hotel was to rent a couple of Volkswagens for the trip to Petra the following day, Friday. Thursday afternoon we made a trial run with the VW's from the Mt. of Olives across the brook Kidron (it's dry now of course) up the other side of the Kidron Valley into the Old City of Jerusalem where we viewed The Dome of the Rock, The Wailing Wall as well as plenty of other dark cavernous walls, streets and hovels that somebody needs to wail Over After coming out of the squalor of Old Jerusalem into the late afternoon sunshine again it was like meeting a long lost friend to find our VW's waiting for us.
   Back at the hotel Mr. Hunting arranged for box lunches, water, etc, for the next day's outing. Petra and return is an all-day trip from Jerusalem. About 205 miles each way. We wanted to leave early in order to return before the Sabbath, so Mr. Hunting arranged for a 4:30 a.m. breakfast at the Coffee Shop or so he thought. He arranged it all right but we hadn't yet learned that those Arabs are a disarranged people and the Coffee Shop boy was not about to get up at 4:30 a.m. to accommodate a few American tourists.
   Nobody was in the Coffee Shop when we arrived the following morning. Fortunately it was not locked and with the cooperation of the desk clerk we were able to find some hot water and a few slices of bread some butter, too, I believe. Lyle Christopherson had brought a jar of instant coffee with him. We had bread and instant coffee for breakfast. We did find the lunches had been prepared and were ready. There was no water, however none that we would dare drink, anyhow. We raided the cooler in the Coffee Shop and came up with assorted bottles of beer and Pepsi-Cola. These were placed in a wooden crate. No ice. This would enable us to withstand the desert heat, we hoped. We had no false illusions about the tantalizing taste of warm beer or Pepsi-Cola.
   After stowing our camera equipment, refreshments, etc., under the hood, bonnet, mouth, or whatever you call it, of the Volkswagens, we were off to Petra. Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong and Lyle Christopherson in one; with my wife Charlene and I and Mr. Hunting in the other. Mrs. Hunting was battling the Jordanian plague and remained behind to rest.

On the Desert Highway

   I believe it was about 5:30 a.m. when we departed on the wide, divided 4-lane boulevard leading east toward Amman. At the edge of Jerusalem the highway is no longer divided however. We soon began the winding descent around and down the canyons that slope off rather quickly from Jerusalem, elevation 2500 ft. to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, elevation 1286 ft. below sea level. Before turning south to Petra you must descend into the Jordan Valley, come back up out of it again and continue east-northeast almost to Amman before cutting south on the plateau east of the Jordan via the Desert Highway.
   The Desert Highway today is a wide 2-lane blacktop strip in fine condition built with American dollars and assistance a few years ago. It was still early and relatively cool as we headed south on the high plains approximately 2500 ft. elevation. The terrain was relatively barren except for a few spots of green at water holes, but we could imagine what this country must have been like with knee-high grass waving in the breeze when the tribe of Reuben (Numbers 32) gazed upon it and decided this was the place for their cattle.
   Soon the sun rose higher and hotter. Mr. Armstrong flashed his lights and gave the signal for the first stop. It was still early but we figured why not have a drink before it gets hot. During this and subsequent stops several of those new Plymouths and Dodges passed us. We wondered where everybody was going. We soon found out.
   Nowhere have I ever driven through country so devoid of vegetation of any kind. One hundred miles or so and no sign of a tree. After the rest stop Mr. Armstrong pulled out in front and there was nothing to look at but his license number, 26040. "That adds up to 12. We'll have to tell Mr. Waterhouse. Wonder what mine is. Say, they put the license number on the key chain don't they? There it is, 13564. That adds up to 19!" Well, anyway, so much for that. I suppose it had to add up to something, but at the time it seemed interesting. Except for an occasional camel or a few goats there wasn't anything else to think about.

Nearing Petra

   Finally we approached Ma'an. Here we added gasoline or petrol. The turnoff to Petra was only a few kilometers farther. Leaving the main highway which continues to the Gulf of Aqaba we began a climb back to the west on a one-lane paved road. This road soon reaches an elevation of 5,000 ft. according to an ONC Air Navigation chart of the area and then drops back into a valley where the village of Wadi Musa is located.
   The descent continues slightly until you approach the "jumping off' place for Petra. Petra itself is apparently between two and three thousand feet above sea level. At the "end of the road" they have recently added a building called The Petra Rest House. In front of The Petra Rest House were several automobiles with numerous tourists milling around not quite sure where they were nor what was what, all the while being harassed and befuddled by numerous Bedouin peddlers.
   As soon as we got out of the car the Bedouins swarmed around us. They attempted to force their wares upon us. A knife, a scarf, a turban, a piece of rock, a Roman coin or whatever else they had was being offered. We probably said "No thank you" in various forms, intensities and inflections 15 or 20 times in the next few minutes, all the while turning around, walking away sideways or backwards or doing whatever we could to shake them off. Eventually they either gave up or some fresh prospects arrived and we were able to think again. If I ever go back and take the recorder along I think I'll put a tape on that just says, "No thank you, I don't want any No thank you, I don't want any No thank you, I don't want any..."
   To try to take pictures, to try to operate a camera, a tape recorder or anything else with somebody over your shoulder looking down your neck and trying to jam a knife in your side not because they want to stick you with it but because they want to sell it to you IS distracting.
   While we were getting organized several large buses of Arab students apparently, rolled up from somewhere. Whether this was their annual field trip or an everyday occurrence I don't know. Next I heard a clinking sound of glass bottles banging together. The Nehi Express was passing through on its way to Petra. There were 4 donkeys each loaded with five 24-bottle cans of orange pop or Pepsi-Cola, 480 bottles in all. As the donkeys bounced along the bottles clinked and clanked. Ferde Grofe should have heard it.
   From this point the trip to Petra through the Siq was reported as 5 kilometers, approximately 3 miles. Since they had horses for rent the distance may have been slightly exaggerated. Mr. Armstrong arranged for horses for himself, his wife, my wife and Lyle. Mr. Hunting who was suffering from the effects of Jordanian food chose to suffer it out at the Rest House. He had been to Petra previously. I had the 16mm movie camera. If you've seen movies taken from horseback you'll know why I decided to walk.
   We then proceeded down the trail which gradually narrowed into the Siq. Soon we were within the narrow red rock canyon. The width In most places is at least 6 to 10 feet with the rock wall ascending vertically two or three hundred feet. At least the Siq was shady and not so hot as the desert outside had been. As we approached the mouth of the Siq our cameras were clicking, capturing the classic Petra photograph of the huge carved temple directly opposite. Any feelings of grandeur we may have felt were quickly swamped by the milling crowd of tourists, Bedouins, Arab students, etc. Charlene remarked that it looked like Disneyland on the 4th of July.
   Before we could contemplate our arrival we immediately had orange pop and Pepsi-Cola stuck under our noses by the local vendors of the Wadi Musa franchise. For 2 or 3 miles I had been playing leapfrog with our group, running ahead of them and then photographing them as they passed, I was tired, dusty and thirsty. As a TV ad writer might say an "influencible someone with buying power and a need and desire to buy." The need and desire was there all right but I didn't like the idea of some Arab cramming it down my throat. So I said, "No thank you," and continued taking pictures. Ten or 15 minutes later when I caught this Petra pop vendor seated, with his back turned I walked over to his cooler (warmer would have been a better term) and announced that I would like an orange pop. He came up off his stool as if it were a "hot seat." His expression was a mixture of frustration and joy. Frustration because he had "missed a sale" but joy that I was buying anyway.
   We proceeded around to the right and out into the area where the valley widens out to perhaps one half or three quarters of a mile in width. In this area is the arena which would seat perhaps three to five thousand people on rock benches or steps. Cushions could be a top-selling item here. On each side of the valley are numerous caves or tombs as they have been called by explorers. We looked inside a few of them. They make a convenient location for subdued light when changing film. Of course we could always tell several people had been there before us. We weren't judging this by the film boxes left behind either. There are no rest rooms in Petra. And no shovels either. (See Deut. 23:13.)
   From the arena we could see out into the plateau beyond. As we were observing that any mechanized army would have easy access to Petra from the west the Siq is not the only means of entrance this observation was immediately punctuated by an army helicopter flying overhead.
   Petra is listed in the Atlas as a place of ruins. It certainly looks ruined. No food, no water, no nothing. One phrase I remember hearing describes it best: "A God Forsaken Hell Hole."
   It IS lower than the surrounding terrain. The caves are supposed to be tombs or graves. The people that used to live there died out and there's no sign of God around there today, so the description fits.

A Good Feast Site?

   How would Petra stack up as a Feast Site?
   When we plan for a Feast of Tabernacles site we have to consider climate and availability of water. How many thousands of gallons of water are needed? How many tons of waste material have to be disposed of? How many truckloads of food staples must be brought in? How many beef cattle must be slaughtered?
   This becomes a massive problem just for 8,000 or 15,000 people and we only plan for 8 days at a time. But in Petra, if that's the place, we are talking about 50,000 or 100,000 people or more and not for 8 days, not for 80 days but more on the order of 1260 days! All the goats in Petra wouldn't last through the first meal! The problems are simply beyond human ability to cope with. In its present condition Petra would be appropriate for only one Holy day. That's right the Day of Atonement.
   The point is: If somebody decides to go to Petra as his place of safety, on his own it would be his greatest blunder, and his Last! Only if the Almighty God promises His supernatural intervention and commands you to go there would it be sane. Only if God supplies the water, the food, protection from the weather, the natives and pursuing armies would you want to go to Petra! Otherwise you'd be marching to your sure death!

A Place of Trial as Well as Safety

   Seeing Petra is a sobering experience. You are immediately aware that it would separate the faithful from the doubters, the thankful from the complainers, the converted from the self-deceived. There won't be any room for vanity and foolishness there. Don't make the mistake of thinking that I am complaining when I describe Petra. I'll be glad to sleep on a rock. The point is, God will have to provide food and water if we stay alive. I'm not discussing anything more than the bare necessities. Even though I know the conditions, if God says "Go," I'm ready to go on faith that there will be water there and that He'll provide food. And, of course, God will have to take us there, remember. As Mr. Ted Armstrong said, "Not five percent of our people could make it in there. They wouldn't have the physical strength and the stamina if you turned them loose 20 miles distant on a hot day."
   So the thing to do about Petra is to forget about it now. Put it out of your mind and do God's will see that the Gospel of the Kingdom of God is preached and the world is warned! Prepare to Rule. Not as a physical being but as a Spiritual being in the Kingdom of God when Christ comes back to set it up.
   As never before you need to pray for God's Work. You need to support that Work while there is time. Pray for direct guidance for Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and for all the leaders in God's Work. Pray that all of God's people remain united under that leadership. Direct your interest toward warning the world not toward saving your skin. Only if we watch and pray will God account us worthy to escape.

Exit Petra

   We didn't stay long in Petra. We rolled those VW's back up that Desert Highway toward Jerusalem as the Sabbath drew on. There was nothing we could accomplish in Petra but we knew that we could get back to Jerusalem and make some more broadcasts there. You heard those broadcasts. They contributed to God's Work.
   There is still a staggering amount of work to be done. And not much time to do it in. Brethren let us begin to pray for God's Work with the same kind of faith that it will take to bring water out of the rock and manna from the skies. If God can take us to Petra He can begin to open up new doors for His Work. He can pour finances into His Work from unexpected sources. He can speed up activity in magazine advertising. He can open the door of Television. Let's look to God. Remember, the problems of Petra can't be solved with a 30 percent growth each year.
   You will have to have living faith to live in Petra. Develop that faith now while mightily advancing God's Work.
   When you hear those fateful words "We're going to Petra" you will want to know that the God you worked with and served is taking you there, otherwise you'll be walking toward a death trap.
   With God's help change your self and do His Work now while there is time.

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Good News MagazineOctober-November 1966Vol XV, No. 10-11